Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Costochondritis causes pain that may be mistaken for that of a heart attach or other heart conditions.
Costochondritis is also known as chest wall pain, costosternal syndrome or costosternal chondrodynia. In some cases, the pain is accompanied by swelling (Tietze syndrome).
Costochondritis usually does not have a distinct cause. The goal of treatment is to ease the pain while waiting for the condition to improve on its own, which takes about several weeks.
Symptoms of costochondritis are usually associated with the pain and may include:
- Pain on the left side of the breastbone
- Sharp, aching pain or pressure
- Pain that affects more than one rib
- Pain that worsens when taking a deep breath or coughing
Any type of chest pain initially requires medical attention to rule out emergency conditions such as a heart attack.
The exact cause of costochondritis is usually unclear. However, in some cases, costochondritis may be caused by:
- Injury to the chest
- Physical strain: Heavy lifting, severe coughing or strenuous exercise
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis
- Joint infection: Tuberculosis, syphilis and aspergillosis can infect the rib joint
- Tumors: Noncancerous and cancerous tumors can cause costochondritis. Cancer may spread to the rib joint from another part of the body (breast, thyroid, lungs)
Factors that increase the risk of costochondritis include being female and older than 40 since most cases of costochondritis occur in women over 40.
On the other hand, Tietze syndrome typically occurs in teenagers and young adults and it can affect both men and women.