Healthy Living

What Is Costochondritis?

What Is Costochondritis?

Key Takeaways

  • Costochondritis is more of an inflammation but without much of a direct cause.
  • Costochondritis can also be caused by an infection or can occur in people who recently had an operation on their sternum or breastbone.
  • If you are experiencing radiating pains from the 4th to 6th ribs, then it is more likely to be costochondritis.

What is costochondritis?

Costochondritis is the term for inflammation of cartilage junctions that hold the ribs and sternum or breastbone. The condition is related to chest pain that can affect anyone in the age group of 10-21 years old. Although the pain can often occur, it still remains a mystery as to what exactly causes the pain in the first place. Though unheard of, costochondritis can also occur in adults where the root cause of pain is often linked to heart diseases.

The fact remains that this health problem is one of the least understood medical conditions since it is often mistaken for something else. It is important that you consult the doctor when you experience any kind of chest pain. Since other more serious health issues such as cardiovascular diseases can cause similar chest pains, it is essential that you meet up with your doctor right away.

Once your doctor has conducted a physical examination and other tests that rule out most of the major diseases as the root cause, you are left with costochondritis.

Causes of costochondritis

The interesting part about this particular condition is that it can sneak up on you with absolutely no warning signs. Moreover, it tends to affect women than men. This condition could be caused by various health issues, which is why making the right diagnosis is all the more important. That is why you need to ensure that you get properly diagnosed since it can enable you to seek immediate and effective treatment for your current condition.

Costochondritis is more of an inflammation but without much of a direct cause. It is assumed that repeat trauma to the chest area or the action of swinging the arms from side to side can actually help cause this condition. However, it can also be caused by bacterial infection or even a viral one.

Costochondritis can also be caused by an infection or can occur in people who recently had an operation on their sternum or breastbone. Patients who have undergone any type of surgery can make them more susceptible to the slightest infection. 

Different types of infectious diseases can also cause costochondritis. They can be:

1) Viral - Respiratory tract infections due to viruses can lead to costochondritis because of inflammation or from frequent coughing.

2) Bacterial - Costochondritis may occur post-surgery and is often caused by bacterial infections.

3) Fungal - Fungal infections rarely cause costochondritis.

What are the symptoms of costochondritis?

If you are experiencing the following symptoms along with chest pain, then you need to get medical care right away.

  • Trouble breathing - If you are finding it difficult to even take in a single breath along with radiating chest pains, then it is most likely that you are suffering from costochondritis. Thus, consult a doctor and get yourself checked out at the earliest. It is vital that you are able to explain the exact nature of your pain to the doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
  • High fever – If you are suffering from high fever along with severe chest pain, then you need to get yourself checked to an emergency room. Fever could be due to certain infections and your doctor can administer antibiotics to treat your condition.
  • Sweating – If you find that you are sweating uncontrollably along with a severe chest pain, then walk into an emergency room and get medical attention. Your doctor may also run a series of tests to rule out some serious health issues that can cause similar symptoms. Once the doctor has confirmed the cause of your condition, then proper treatment is given.
  • Nausea - If you are experiencing sudden bouts of nausea coupled with chest pain, then contact your doctor right away. After diagnosing your condition, the doctor would recommend a viable course of treatment for the same.
  • Inflammation and pus – If the skin around your rib joints is red and swollen, and that there is an unusual discharge like pus, then it is likely that you are suffering from costochondritis.
  • Sharp pains - If you find that your pain is getting increasingly worse, head over to the emergency room for faster medical attention. Once the doctors have correctly diagnosed your condition, they would recommend an effective course of treatment for your current condition. 

Diagnosis of costochondritis

There are no specific tests when it comes to diagnosing costochondritis. Physical examination and medical history are usually the mainstays of diagnosis. Other tests, however, are done to rule out more serious conditions that can cause similar symptoms such as cardiac problems. 

Pain due to costochondritis is serious enough to warrant medical attention right away. That is why you need to consult a doctor immediately when you start experiencing sharp pains across your chest wall. These sharp pains can be indicative of various health issues. Make sure that you are able to inform your doctor about the exact nature of the pain and the area where it is originating from. It is vital that you are able to describe it accurately to your doctor so that he can arrive at a right diagnosis. The doctor would probably run a series of tests to identify the root cause as well as to eliminate other probable conditions.

Other indications

You may also experience some of the following conditions that are often associated with this particular condition:

  • Your chest pain could start in the front and radiate outward, and then move on to your back and abdomen. If you are experiencing this kind of pain, then chances are high that you are suffering from costochondritis.
  • You may also experience sharp pains each time you draw in a deep breath or start coughing. It is vitally important that you consult a healthcare professional right away for a speedy diagnosis and treatment.
  • If you are experiencing radiating pains from the 4th to 6th ribs, then it is more likely to be costochondritis. If you are experiencing something similar, then it is time for you to consult a specialist and get it looked at.
  • When you press on the costochondral joints in your chest and feel tenderness, then you probably have costochondritis. 
  • If your condition starts to develop post-surgery, then it is most likely due to an infection than anything else. So inform your doctor right away and get it looked at for a faster and more effective treatment.

Tests for costochondritis

As previously mentioned, there are no known tests for this particular condition. However, most doctors would run a full cardiac workup to rule out other serious health issues, which could be the causative factors for costochondritis. Here are a few indications that your doctor would be checking for:

  • Any signs of infection in the chest area such as pus, redness, or swelling.
  • Rib tenderness
  • A gallium scan to know the exact area of infection, which should help the doctor to quickly arrive at a diagnosis.
  • To check and see if the white blood cell count (WBC) is elevated, which can indicate infection.
  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to rule out other health issues.
  • An electrocardiogram or ECG to ensure that the heart is functioning normally.
  • Full panel blood test

Treatment for costochondritis

Your doctor will prescribe treatment therapies to help you with your current condition. However, remember to share your personal and family’s medical history so the doctor could properly assess your condition and prescribe suitable treatment methods. Doctors would often prescribe painkillers such as advil or naproxen to help you deal with the sharp pains that radiate from your chest.

In addition, you can also use an ice pack or a hot one to help soothe the pain in the affected area. Just remember to make the hot pack warm and not boiling hot as the latter may scald your skin. You would also be advised to take a complete rest for a few days until the pain completely subsides.

Medications for costochondritis

For costochondritis, doctors usually prescribe anti-inflammatory and anti-steroidal drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as these drugs help alleviate some of the symptoms of pain and inflammation.

However, if your condition seems to be not improving, then your doctor may recommend a steroid injection at the site of inflammation. While this treatment method is quite effective at alleviating pain, it is always recommended to try out the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) first.

In case of bacterial or fungal costochondritis, you may need to have an intravenous (IV) drip of antibiotics for a few hours before taking oral antibiotics.

These are some of the various treatment methods by which you can get your costochondritis treated right away. Just remember that it is important that you seek out immediate medical attention on first experiencing the chest pains since any delay on your part could lead to more serious health complications such as a heart attack.

If medications fail to treat your condition, surgery may be required. The sore cartilage may be surgically removed when you have persistent costochondritis. You will be referred to a surgeon if an operation is necessary.

When meeting up with the surgeon, you need to be upfront about your medical history, which include other health issues that you may have suffered from in the recent past along with a list of all the substances that you are allergic to. Providing such information will help the surgeon to effectively take the necessary steps for your condition. You may also want to take a loved one or a family member with you when you visit the doctor for support.

Outlook

In all likelihood, your doctor may ask you to make a few lifestyle changes to prevent the issue from flaring up again. Moreover, it is always a good idea to opt for a healthier and nutrient-rich diet, as it can help you fight off infections with ease.

So the next time you come across unexplained chest pains, you would have a better idea of what it is and the treatment process for costochondritis, especially homemade remedies to help soothe the pain. Try to read up more on your health condition and even consult a few specialists to find out how you can prevent this condition from reoccurring again.