Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that joins a rib to the breastbone (sternum), forming the costochondral joint. It is a common cause of chest pain which can be sometimes mistaken as a heart attack. It causes an acute or agonizing pain in the chest area.
The pain can come on quickly or gradually and extend throughout the chest. Although commonly misinterpreted as a heart attack, costochondritis is not life-threatening. Costochondritis is also known as chest wall discomfort syndrome, costosternal syndrome, or costosternal chondrodynia. The inflammation may accompany pain at times, known as Tietze syndrome.
The underlying cause of costochondritis is not yet fully understood. While the symptoms may subside on their own, it can take several weeks. Treatments are available to alleviate discomfort and aid in the recovery process. It is crucial to obtain a prompt and accurate diagnosis, as chest pain can sometimes indicate serious medical conditions.
Costochondritis is characterized by chest pain, which can develop gradually over time or occur suddenly. Specifically, one may feel:
- Pain that starts on the left side of the chest and spreads out to the rest of the chest, stomach or back
- Pain that affects more than one rib
- Pressure-like, aching or sharp pain
- Pain intensifies when hugging, lying down, breathing deep, sneezing, coughing or being physically active
If you experience chest pain, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention to rule out potentially life-threatening causes such as a heart attack. Proper diagnosis is crucial for receiving the appropriate treatment.
While the exact cause of costochondritis is unknown, experts suggest that it may be triggered by:
- Trauma or injury in the chest
- Physical strain such as coughing too hard
- Respiratory tract infection
- Frequent use of arms
- Exercising too much
- Bacterial or fungal infection
It may also occur due to an underlying illness affecting the cartilage such as osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Costochondritis is a prevalent diagnosis in patients suffering from chest pain. According to one study, 30% of those who go to the emergency room with chest pain had costochondritis.
Statistically, it is often diagnosed in adults, particularly women older than 40. It contributes for 10% to 30% of chest discomfort complaints in adolescents aged 12 to 14.
Tietze syndrome affects both males and females equally and is most commonly seen in adolescence and young adults.