Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage in your chest that connects the ribs to the breastbone. It causes a sharp or aching pain in the chest that develops either suddenly or slowly and spreads across the chest.
Costochondritis frequently mimics the pain of a heart attack. But it is typically harmless and usually goes away on its own without any treatment. However, any chest pain should be taken seriously, and it is advised to get tests immediately to prevent complications.
Costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain in both children and adolescents, where females account for more than half of the patients. This article will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments for costochondritis.
What Causes Costochondritis?
Even though we don’t exactly know what causes costochondritis, experts suggest these conditions can be triggered by several factors, such as:
- Any illness that makes you cough a lot
- Respiratory tract infections by viruses
- Overexertion from heavy exercise or excessive exercise
- History of chest injuries or repeated minor trauma to the chest wall
- Having large breasts
- Overuse of your arms
- Bacterial infections that affect people who use recreational IV drugs or have had upper chest surgery
- Fungal infections (which occur very rarely)
- Costochondritis can sometimes occur as a sign of conditions like osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or rheumatoid arthritis that affect your cartilage.
What Are The Symptoms Of Costochondritis?
- Reproducible tenderness upon pressing on the rib joints is one of the characteristic symptoms of costochondritis.
- Exercise, minor injuries, or respiratory infections frequently make costochondritis-induced chest pain worse.
- Pain during a cough is another symptom.
- Typically, pain from costochondritis is located on the front left side of your chest wall. But it can spread to the rest of the chest, including the back area or abdomen, and cause stomach or back pain.
- The heart, lungs, or blood vessels inside the chest are not the source of pain in costochondritis; rather, it comes from the protective cage that the ribs and cartilage form. The common sites of pain from costochondritis are the fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs. The pain may increase upon moving heavy things or deep breathing.
- Redness, inflammation, or pus discharge from the surgical site are frequently present when costochondritis develops in response to surgery.
How Can Costochondritis Be Treated?
- Painkillers like paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can be used to reduce the pain and inflammation. However, people with bleeding disorders, kidney disease, and digestive disorders should avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications.
- Local anesthetic medications and steroid injections, such as methylprednisolone or betamethasone, can be used when the pain is severe.
- Antiseizure drugs like gabapentin, which are used to treat people with epilepsy, can help with costochondritis.
- In cases of bacterial or fungal costochondritis, doctors may recommend antibiotics and antifungal medications.
- Using conservative techniques like heat pads or ice applications can relieve the symptoms.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, physiotherapy, and chiropractic therapy are some of the non-medical treatments available for pain relief in costochondritis.
- It is also important to take rest and avoid any exercise or sport that can worsen the pain. Instead, it is recommended to practice gentle stretching exercises and yoga.
- In most cases, people suffering from costochondritis get better gradually with time. However, in extreme cases, an intercostal nerve block that involves the injection of local anesthetic medicine around the painful region can be performed. By doing this, we can temporarily disrupt nerve impulses to inhibit the pain. The effect of such nerve blocks can last several weeks or months. But if the situation is worsening or is getting recurrent, doctors may then advise injecting a series of these nerve blockers to permanently destroy the nerve that causes pain.
People who experience chest pain are usually frightened, as they think they are facing a serious heart or lung issue. Thankfully, if costochondritis is the cause of the pain, there is no need to worry because it is not a life-threatening condition. Costochondritis generally improves on its own with time.
However, it is more likely to be a sign of a heart attack if you experience sudden chest pain along with other symptoms like sweating, nausea, or hyperventilation. Hence, it is wise to seek immediate medical attention to make sure your heart is healthy. Additionally, this condition cannot be prevented, as we are unaware of the exact reasons behind its occurrence.