Costochondritis: Overview, Causes & Symptoms
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Costochondritis (Tietze's Syndrome)

What Is Costochondritis?

Costochondritis, also known as Tietze’s syndrome, is an inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage. The condition most often affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone (sternum). This area is referred to as the costosternal joint.

Costochondritis causes chest pain that ranges from mild to severe. The condition often goes away within a few weeks, but some cases may require treatment.

What Causes Costochondritis?

Causes

The exact cause of costochondritis in most people is unknown. However, some of the following conditions may cause it:

  • trauma to the chest, such as blunt impact from a car accident or fall
  • physical strain from activities, such as heavy lifting and strenuous exercise
  • certain viruses or respiratory conditions (such as tuberculosis and syphilis) that can cause joint inflammation
  • certain types of arthritis
  • tumors in the costosternal joint region

Who Is at Risk for Costochondritis?

Risk Factors

Women and people over age 40 are most commonly diagnosed with costochondritis. You may also be at a higher risk for this condition if you:

  • participate in high-impact activities
  • perform manual labor
  • have allergies and are frequently exposed to irritants

You’re also at increased risk if you have any of the following conditions:

Handling heavy loads in an inefficient way can stress muscles in the chest area. For instance, younger people should be careful lifting heavy schoolbags. Adults should be careful when performing manual labor.

What Are the Symptoms of Costochondritis?

Symptoms

People with costochondritis often experience chest pain in the area of the upper and middle ribs on either side of the breastbone. The pain may radiate to the back or the abdomen. It may also get worse if you move, stretch, or breathe deeply.

These symptoms can indicate other medical conditions, including a heart attack. Call your doctor or go to the hospital immediately if you’re experience persistent chest pain.

How Is Costochondritis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam before making a diagnosis. They may also ask you about your symptoms and your family’s medical history. During the physical exam, your doctor will try to assess pain levels by manipulating your rib cage. They may also look for signs of infection or inflammation.

Your doctor might order tests such as X-rays and blood tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.

How Is Costochondritis Treated?

Treatment

There are a few different treatments for costochondritis.

Medications

Most cases of costochondritis are treated with over-the-counter medications. If your pain is mild to moderate, your doctor will probably recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve).

Your doctor may also prescribe:

  • prescription-strength NSAIDs
  • other painkillers, such as narcotics
  • antianxiety medications

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may tell you to make permanent changes to your lifestyle if you have persistent or chronic costochondritis. Some types of exercise can aggravate this condition, including running and weightlifting. Manual labor may have a negative effect as well.

Your doctor may also recommend:

  • bed rest
  • physical therapy
  • hot or cold therapy using a heating pad and ice

Your doctor may use pain levels to evaluate how you’re responding to treatment. Once treatment is over, you can gradually build up to your previous activity levels.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with Costochondritis?

Outlook

This condition usually isn’t persistent. In many cases, costochondritis will go away on its own.

To lower your chances of persistent and chronic costochondritis, make sure to carry and lift heavy loads properly. You should also try doing fewer high-impact exercises or manual labor. Call your doctor immediately if you experience chest pain while performing any of these activities.

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