What Is Costochondritis?

woman having chest pain

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  • If you experience a type of chest pain that feels as if someone is pushing on the cartilage located in front of your ribcage, then chances are you’re suffering from costochondritis
  • If you are suffering from any type of chest pain, no matter how mild or intense, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention immediately

If you experience a type of chest pain that feels as if someone is pushing on the cartilage located in front of your ribcage, then chances are you’re suffering from costochondritis. But how exactly does this condition begin and what triggers it? Here are some facts about this health problem.

The Basics of Costochondritis 

The name costochondritis hails from three words: “costo,” meaning related to the ribs, “chondr-“ or cartilage and “-itis” or “inflammation.1 Hence, costochondritis refers to inflammation in the cartilage in your ribcage. This health problem often affects the cartilage that’s specifically located where the upper ribs are attached to the sternum or breastbone — an area called the sternalcostal joint or costosternal articulation.2

The ribs affected by costochondritis are usually the fourth, fifth and sixth ribs.3 However, take note that this illness should not be confused with costochondral separation, or rib separation, which usually happens after a violent impact.4 The type of costochondritis pain can be either mild or severe — mild cases are usually just tender to the touch, while severe ones may be unbearable and debilitating, and may radiate to other areas of the body, such as your limbs.5

The hallmark symptom, however, is chest pain that is usually sharp and found in front of the chest wall. However, it may radiate all the way to the back or abdomen.6 Certain triggers may cause the pain to worsen, such as coughing, deep breathing or moving around.

What Causes Costochondritis and Who Is at Risk?

While inflammation is pinpointed as the primary cause of costochondritis, the specific trigger for it is unknown. However, there are several potential causes that may predispose you to this condition, such as:7

Chest trauma, like an injury or blunt impact

Physical strain due to strenuous activities

Viral, bacterial and fungal infections

Diseases like arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia

Tumors in the sternocostal junction or surrounding regions

Costochondritis more commonly affects women than men. In kids and adolescents, it’s a common cause of chest pain, accounting for 10 to 30 percent of chest pain in children. The peak age for this condition is between 12 to 14 years old.8 Costochondritis may also occur during pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimester.

How Long Does Costochondritis Last?

It may take a few weeks for costochondritis to improve, although in some cases, it can last for several months or more. The good news is the condition doesn't lead to any permanent problems. However, there are cases when a relapse occurs. If untreated, chronic costochondritis pain can be severely debilitating. Thus, you may need to seek long-term care to ensure that you can stay physically active without any discomfort.9

It’s also crucial to make sure that the chest pain you’re experiencing is really just costochondritis, and not a heart problem, which may have the same symptoms. If you are suffering from any type of chest pain, no matter how mild or intense, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention immediately.

MORE ABOUT COSTOCHONDRITIS

Costochondritis: Introduction

What Is Costochondritis?

Costochondritis Symptoms

Costochondritis Causes

Costochondritis Treatment

Costochondritis Prevention

Costochondritis Diet

Costochondritis FAQ


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