Costochondritis: Complications, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options


By Mohan Garikiparithi

Chest wall pain or costochondritis, also called Tietze’s syndrome, is a condition in which inflammation occurs between the tissues that connect the rib to the sternum (breast bone). For some people, this pain can be alarming because it may feel similar to the pain caused by an oncoming heart attack.

The cause of chest wall pain (costochondritis) isn’t clear, but there are some possible reasons why inflammation may occur. Some potential causes of costochondritis are injury (blow to the chest), physical strain (heavy lifting, strenuous exercise), arthritis, joint infection, and tumors (cancerous and noncancerous).

Symptoms of costochondritis (chest wall pain) include chest pain, typically occurring on the left side, feelings of sharp pressure, painful ribs, and worsening pain when you cough or breathe.

Chest wall pain (Costochondritis) Complications

Pain from costochondritis may be temporary, but if it is chronic it can be quite debilitating. This pain can return during physical activity or even everyday tasks, so costochondritis can really negatively impact a person’s quality of life.

First and foremost, if pain is constant, you will want to rule out other causes, including heart problems or even pneumonia. If these are ruled out, then your doctor may test for fibromyalgia, because costochondritis is a common symptom of fibromyalgia.

In fibromyalgia, you experience pain throughout the body, fatigue and inability to rest due to pain, difficulty focusing or concentrating, feelings of depression, and headaches.

Treatment options and diagnosis for costochondritis

Your doctor will examine your upper chest and run tests such as an electrocardiogram to ensure your heart is working well, a blood test to check for underlying inflammation, and a chest X-ray. If no other condition is detected, your doctor may diagnose you with costochondritis.

Typical treatment of costochondritis (chest wall pain) includes taking anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and – in very severe cases – surgery. You will want to avoid strenuous activity if it aggravates your chest pain. It may also be beneficial to apply heat packs to the chest to relieve inflammation.

Since chest wall pain can occur from physical strain, therapy may be helpful to stretch out the area. Stretching out the muscles in the chest may help alleviate pain associated with costochondritis.

Costochondritis will go away on its own, but if you notice the pain is sticking around for weeks, seek out medical attention.

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