Costochondritis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment
Your body has cartilage, which is a supple and durable kind of connective tissue. It protects and envelops the ends of long bones at the joints. Blood vessels and nerves are absent from cartilage.
The harmless inflammation (swelling) of cartilage in your chest is called costochondritis. Costochondritis feels like an aching or sharp pain, which can develop slowly or start suddenly and spread across your chest.
Costochondritis that is not severe may go away in a few days. The majority of instances don’t last more than a year, however chronic cases might linger for weeks or longer. If you suffer chest discomfort while engaging in activities such as manual labour or high-impact exercises, get medical help right away.
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What is Costochondritis?
Costochondritis is the medical term for cartilage inflammation in the rib cage. It might happen due to an illness, an accident, or other health problems. This ailment often affects the cartilage at the costosternal joint or costosternal junction, which is where the upper ribs join the breastbone, commonly known as the sternum.
Costochondritis can result in mild to severe chest discomfort. Mild instances may simply result in a mild tenderness or soreness when you press on the affected area in your chest.
Deep breathing and certain motions may make more severe instances worse. The problem often goes away within a few weeks or months, although in certain situations, treatment may be necessary.
What are the Symptoms of Costochondritis?
Costochondritis frequently manifests as chest pain in the upper and middle rib area, on either side of the breastbone. This discomfort may worsen over time gradually or unexpectedly.
Additional symptoms can include:
- pain that increases with physical activity
- pain that intensifies with coughing or deep breaths
- pressure on your chest, such as when you wear a seatbelt, causes pain that intensifies
- pain that becomes worse when lying down
It’s crucial to remember that signs like tightness in the chest and radiating pain might signify a variety of illnesses, including a heart attack. If your chest discomfort is severe and persistent, get medical help right away.
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What are the Causes of Costochondritis?
In the majority of cases, the actual cause of costochondritis is unknown. However, the following circumstances might lead to it:
- severe coughing
- certain viruses or respiratory conditions, such as tuberculosis, that can cause joint inflammation
- physical exhaustion is caused by exerting oneself vigorously or moving big objects
- trauma to the chest, such as a fall or a vehicle accident with a blunt impact
According to some studies, women, particularly athletes, are more likely than males to develop costochondritis. You may also be more susceptible to developing this illness if you:
- have allergies and are frequently exposed to irritants
- recently had a chest injury from a fall or physical trauma
- participate in high-impact activities
How is Costochondritis Diagnosed?
While there is no specific test to identify costochondritis, your doctor will almost certainly do some tests and ask you several questions to identify the cause of your chest discomfort.
However, depending on your unique medical history, your doctor may order certain tests to rule out other possible causes of your chest discomfort, such as pneumonia or coronary heart disease. Typically, lab tests are not required to identify costochondritis.
X-Rays and ECGs
To be sure your lungs aren’t emitting anything odd, your doctor could ask you to obtain an X-ray.
Your X-ray ought to be normal if you have costochondritis. To make sure your heart isn’t the source of your chest pain, they can also advise getting an electrocardiogram (ECG).
When diagnosing costochondritis, it is frequently necessary to rule out other potential, more serious causes.
What is the Treatment for Costochondritis?
Usually, costochondritis resolves on its own, however, it may persist for a few weeks or longer. The therapy aims to make people feel less uncomfortable.
Your health care provider might recommend:
- Anti-Seizure Drugs – Some epilepsy medications have proved successful in controlling chronic pain.
- Antidepressants – Tricyclic antidepressants are often used to control chronic pain — especially if the pain interferes with sleep.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs – Some of these medications are available over-the-counter. By prescription, stronger versions are available. Damage to the kidneys and stomach lining are examples of side effects.
Physical therapy treatments might include:
- Nerve Stimulation – Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) involves applying adhesive patches to the skin near the painful area and using a device to transmit a small electrical current. The current may interfere with or obscure pain signals, blocking their passage to the brain.
- Stretching Exercises – It could be beneficial to perform gentle chest-muscle stretching exercises.
Surgery or Other Procedures
Injecting numbing medicine and a corticosteroid straight into the affected joint is another possibility if conservative procedures don’t relieve the pain.
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What are the Complications of Costochondritis?
Normally, treatment of the inflammation and pain causes costochondritis to eventually go away on its own.
Even with therapy, the pain from chronic costochondritis may come back or linger when you exercise or do particular activities. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to seek long-term care to prevent costochondritis from impairing your quality of life and capacity for everyday tasks.
Costochondritis-related pains might be a sign of other problems. When you have chest pain, you should seek medical attention right away to rule out pneumonia or a heart attack. Chest discomfort is frequently a sign of heart or lung problems.
Costochondritis-related chest discomfort may be a sign of fibromyalgia. You could also have pain in your chest if you have fibromyalgia in addition to:
- feelings of depression
- difficulty focusing or concentrating
- pain resulting in weariness and an inability to rest.
- pain throughout your body
Inquire with your doctor about a fibromyalgia test if you also suffer chest pains in addition to these other symptoms. Understanding this disease will make it easier for you to deal with the symptoms and prevent it from interfering with your everyday activities.
Costochondritis is a benign inflammation (swelling) of the cartilage in your chest. The majority of cases last no more than a year, however, chronic cases might persist for weeks or longer. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced rheumatologist. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition.
At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a rheumatologist, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment with Dr. Chirag Arora at the CK Birla Hospital.
How Far Can Costochondritis Spread?
Typically, the front left side of your breastbone is where discomfort first manifests. It frequently affects more than one rib. It might impact your arms and shoulders in addition to the rest of your chest.
What Should You Avoid With Costochondritis?
Any action that puts stress on your chest area, such as rigorous exercise or even basic movements like reaching up to a high cabinet, might cause costochondritis. You should refrain from engaging in any activities that aggravate your chest pain until the cartilage and rib inflammation have subsided.
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