How Costochondritis Could Explain Your Chest Pains
Costochondritis (koss-toe-con-DRY-tiss) can affect people in different ways. Some experience a flare-up once or twice a year, but, for many others, it is a lifelong condition that they have to learn to live for the rest of their life. Flare-ups can happen at any time and with little notice. In this article, we will explore several aspects of this condition, including its causes, who it effects, common symptoms, and how to cope.
Chest Pain Is Just One of the Symptoms
Costochondritis will manifest itself as some sort of pain in the chest area, including:
- Tenderness in the breastbone where the cartilage is connected to your ribs
A feeling of excessive pressure or a pinching in your chest area
Pain spreading from your side to your back around the shoulder blade area
Difficulty breathing due to pain in the chest
Pain that is aggravated when you sneeze or cough
Sensitivity to cold or hot weather
Stress can also lead to costochondritis-like signs. Anxiety also sometimes causes tightness in the chest, which aggravates these symptoms.
See Your Doctor First
If you're experiencing chest pain, the first thing you should do is visit a doctor. You need to get proper treatment and confirmation that you are, in fact, suffering from costochondritis and not a more severe heart condition.
Costochondritis Is Caused by Inflamed Cartilage
According to the Mayo Clinic, costochondritis occurs when the cartilage that connects your ribs to the breastbone becomes inflamed. This inflammation puts pressure on the breastbone, which causes pain in this general area.
The United Kingdom's NHS concluded that costochondritis can occur due to straining your chest from excessive coughing, injury, a viral infection, or chest trauma. Any one of these can then put a strain on your chest area and contribute to the contraction of costochondritis. If you work a very labor-intensive job or if you have a very active lifestyle, then these could be why you might be prone to this condition.
However, not every patient has excessively strained their chest, which can be confusing. It can take a while to get a diagnosis for costochondritis. Doctors will often carry out other tests, such as an ECG or Holter test, to ensure that you are not having issues with your heart.
How Do Doctors Diagnose This Condition?
To confirm that a patient does not have heart problems, the doctor will carry out tests to eliminate different variables. A patient could have underlying conditions, such as angina or a blockage in the heart, which are extremely serious. If the tests come back negative, they will look at your lifestyle to see if there are any other underlying issues to help determine a diagnosis.
If a patient has pain in their breastbone, simply pressing down on this area will cause extreme discomfort. This is a key symptom of costochondritis. The doctor will start under the chin and continue down the chest to the sternum. They will press down on each area to assess how severe your pain is. The littlest bit of pressure will cause immediate pain. Sensitivity here is a key factor in helping the doctor determine if you have costochondritis or not—the pressure will feel extremely unpleasant and you will be sore each time the doctor presses on this area. Once you get a diagnosis, you can start to move on with your life and learn to live with your conditions.
Do you suffer from costochondritis?
How to Relieve the Pain
There is no cure for costochondritis. However, there are a few methods you can use to relieve the pain. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory gel: Apply a strong prescription anti-inflammatory gel 3 times a day.
- Anti-inflammatory pills: Nurofen or Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory painkiller. Follow the dosage instructions on the bottle, or follow whatever your doctor advises. Take the painkillers for 3 days at most. After 3 days, switch to the other option. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if the pain persists for 5 days or more.
- Paracetamol: If the pain is mild, then you might be able to survive by taking Paracetamol. It isn't as strong or as addictive as the medications mentioned above, but only take it when you are suffering from pain. Don't become addicted.
- Hot and cold treatments: Apply a hot water bottle to your chest area to help ease the pain into a dull throb. You can also apply cool compresses or patches.
- Transdermal patches: There are patches you apply onto your skin to the pain-afflicted area. These are usually prescription-based and gradually relieve pain over the course of a few hours.
Avoid Triggering Another Costochondritis Flare-Up
There are some lifestyle changes you can make to avoid repeatedly suffering from costochondritis. If you don't live with it on a daily basis, then you are one of the lucky ones—some people experience pain on a daily basis. However, even if you don't have it each day, you still need to be aware that it can come back at any time. Make sure you don't do anything that could cause a relapse, such as:
1. Heavy Lifting
You will have to adjust your exercise routine now that you have costochondritis. Exercises that put pressure on your chest and upper torse—such as weightlifting or push-ups—can aggravate your condition and cause a flare-up. I myself am very cautious when using dumbbells, as early on I noticed that excessive stretching above my head or behind my back would intensify my pain. To reduce the chances of straining my chest and causing a flare-up, I avoid doing these routines.
While light gardening work is allowed, any gardening that involves lifting heavy rocks, blocks, paving flags, or shrubs and trees can result in exhibiting costochondritis symptoms a few days later. Light gardening, such as planting vegetables and flowers, is fine and won't aggravate your costochondritis.
3. Moving Furniture
Many of us do this without thinking of the repercussions. While you might not think that lifting furniture or bed frames would be an issue, it can, in fact, cause major problems for those who suffer from costochondritis. Be sensible and let someone else do the heavy lifting.
4. Getting Sick
If you suffer from costochondritis, it is vital that you try to stay healthy. Try to avoid getting colds, the flu, or even a viral infection. Increase your intake of Vitamins C and D by either taking supplements or by eating foods high in these nutrients. You can take vitamin supplements in tablet-form or capsule-form to help keep your immune system in tip-top shape—especially in winter.
Getting sick can aggravate your costochondritis. Coughing, sneezing, and a fever will put pressure on your respiratory system. Once you recover from your flu, your body will be at its weakest, and the coughing and sneezing will put pressure on your chest, aggravating your costochondritis. For the next week or two, you can expect to have pain in your upper body, especially in the chest, ribs, and back.
5. Cold Weather
Try to stay as warm as possible on cold days. The winter months are extremely difficult for me as I find that the cold aggravates my condition. Those who live in cold climates need to avoid being outdoors for long periods of time. If you must go outside, try to dress warmly and spend as little time standing outside in the cold as you can.
Who Suffers From Costochondritis?
You could be young, old, fit, unfit, healthy, or unhealthy and you might still get costochondritis. Any age group and any gender can be affected by this condition. However, women are more prone to suffer from this condition compared to men, and costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain in children between 10 to 21 years of age. To date, there is no conclusive research that tells us why certain people get this condition, especially if they haven't performed any physical activities that are known to cause this condition.
People who suffer from costochondritis often find that sudden movement, coughing, or sneezing after suffering from the flu can cause this condition to flare up. Sometimes, certain forms of exercise or physical activity can aggravate the pain.
In the long-run, it's important to make lifestyle changes in order to reduce the pain associated with this condition. Costochondritis affects all aspects of your life, and sometimes even the most active people can be impacted by this condition.
When one learns that they have costochondritis, they often find it bewildering—how on earth they could get this condition? It often seems to appear out of nowhere. In addition, when you first start suffering from the symptoms of costochondritis, you might confuse them for other being symptoms of other conditions, such as heart problems.
Costochondritis Is Different for Everybody
Costochondritis is a very painful condition. The first flare-up will be very severe and extremely scary. Anyone who has experienced chest pain knows that is can be very painful and extremely uncomfortable. I initially had flu-like symptoms along with chest pain. I couldn't eat and had difficulty breathing. Luckily, I got diagnosed pretty early on, which is not always the case.
Because of its symptoms, you might initially suspect that the pain could be due to a heart condition and not costochondritis. Many of us will suspect that we are having heart problems because the pain occurs in the same area. That is why it is important to get it checked immediately. If you experience any pain in and around the chest area, you should always be seen by a doctor in case it is a problem with your heart.
The pain is unique to each person and everybody will experience it in different areas and at different levels. For me, it sometimes feels like pins and needles. Other times, especially when I feel pain in the center of my chest, it feels like something is pressing down or pinching that area. Imagine you have a cross on your chest and back—that's where my pain radiates from.
Costochondritis might disappear for some people, but for others, it just never goes away. A flare-up can occur at any time.
Find a Way to Cope That Works Best for You
On days that you suffer from costochondritis, you need to slow down and take it easy. Try to avoid doing as much as possible. Things like vacuuming, cleaning, and bending down can aggravate your pain. Over time, you will learn to recognize the symptoms of costochondritis and will know with a flare-up is coming on. When you start feeling the symptoms, don't do any strenuous work or exercises that can exasperate them.
Costochondritis is an unusual condition because some people only experience it once in their life, while others aren't so lucky and have it for life. Sometimes, it can go away for weeks or months at a time. Then, when you least expect it, you can get a flare-up. For those who have to live with it on a daily basis, it can affect their job, lifestyle, and it can prevent them from doing things they might normally take for granted.
There is no particular time frame during which you can expect costochondritis. While the winter can be especially difficult for costochondritis patients, flare-ups can also occur in the summer. If you work in a high-stress job, if you have exams coming up, or if you're going through a difficult time in your life, this can trigger your costochondritis.
The first time you experience costochondritis is the worst, but afterward, your symptoms might not be as severe. For others, this is not always the case—each time they get a flare-up, the pain is as bad as the first time. There is no cure, but patients can get cortisone injections that might help you cope and can even help eliminate the pain. Other patients are more inclined to look at alternative medicine, specific foods, or special medicines to help them cope with this condition and live their life as pain-free as possible.
You will have to learn to cope with costochondritis as an individual. You will find your own ways of dealing with it, and what works for you might not work for another person with the same condition.
Is your costochondritis under control?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Sp Greaney