What is Costochondritis and how to treat it?

Costochondritis is a painful condition of the chest wall which is caused by inflammation in the joints of the rib cage. It causes chest pain which is common in kids and adolescents.

Moreover, it accounts for around 10% to 30% of all chest pain in children. Yearly, doctors estimate around 650,000 cases of chest pain in young people of ages 10 to 21. The peak age for this condition is ages 12-14.

Often, people who get chest pain are worried they have a heart or lung problem. Luckily, pain due to costochondritis is not life-threatening and it does usually get better on its own with time.

Causes of costochondritis

Though causes of costochondritis are often unknown, in some cases, the condition can be the result of one or more of the following;

  • history of an illness which causes a lot of coughing
  • heavy lifting or vigorous exercise, involving the upper extremities and chest wall
  • carrying heavy bags, like a heavy backpack on one side or the other
  • having large breasts or a history of chest infections or chest injuries
  • undergoing surgery which affects the chest wall, like cardiac bypass

Costochondritis can be an independent health disorder by itself or sometimes a feature of a more common disorder. Examples of health conditions which can feature costochondritis comprise fibromyalgia, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Symptoms of costochondritis

Chest pain and discomfort may be burning, stabbing, or aching in nature. The most affected ribs are the second to fifth ones.

According to a study published in the journal American Family Physician, the condition most commonly affects people older than age 40. Furthermore, an expected 13-36% of those who seek medical attention for chest pain are experiencing costochondritis. Therefore, the following are the activities which usually worsened the pain associated with costochondritis;

  • a significant amount of coughing, deep breathing
  • persistent exercise
  • doing any physical activity using the upper arms, like lifting boxes

The pain related to costochondritis usually occurs on the left side of the body. But, it can affect both sides of the body.

Tietze syndrome

There is a variation of costochondritis which is called Tietze syndrome. This disorder causes the pain associated with costochondritis, along with swelling of the rib cartilage. However, you can tell the difference by noting the following;

  • Tietze syndrome is rare.
  • Usually, it comes on abruptly, with chest pain radiating to your shoulders or arms and lasting several weeks.
  • This condition is accompanied by a localized swelling at the painful area.

Treatment of costochondritis

Doctors usually treat this condition conservatively. Therefore, resting and avoiding vigorous exercise which affects the chest wall can benefit. So can over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

However, children under age 18 should avoid aspirin due to the increased Reye’s syndrome risk. In some rare cases, a physician may recommend injections of corticosteroids or lidocaine to reduce inflammation and pain. Other treatments which may help to relieve chest pain include the following;

  • Applying moist heat by warm compresses.
  • Taking cough suppressants which will help to ease coughing and reduce pressure to the cartilage.
  • Physical therapy to ease chest wall tension.

If these treatments do not reduce the incidence of costochondritis, patients should seek a follow-up with their physician.

Hence, costochondritis syndrome is difficult to prevent. Though aggravating the symptoms can be reduced by avoiding the chest wall injury.

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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