Chest wall pain, known medically as costochondritis, is an inflammatory condition that affects many people and is one of the most common causes of chest pain. Although costochondritis can affect anyone at any time, women and men over the age of 40 are most susceptible. Besides chest wall pain, costochondritis may also be referred to as costosternal syndrome or costosternal chondrodynia.
The pain with costochondritis can be scary and can even mimic more serious conditions, like heart attack. The most common type is sharp pain in the costosternal joints. This pain is most prevalent on the left side of the chest, but it may affect either side. There may also be an aching or gnawing pain. Adults must first be checked for heart-related causes and have those completely ruled out before costochondritis can be diagnosed, since the symptoms and pain can be very similar.
When you have costochondritis, it may be painful or even difficult to breathe, especially when taking deep breaths. You may also experience pain when you cough. Since infectious diseases can cause it and can also cause coughing, this can be a double-edged sword for many sufferers. All types of infectious diseases-- viral, bacterial and fungal--can cause Costochondritis, but to different degrees. Viral infections most often cause Costochondritis, while bacterial infections usually happen only after surgery and fungal infections are rarely the cause.
The pain is sometimes alarming and often causes sufferers to seek medical attention. When you seek medical attention for chest pain and your EKG and chest X-rays appear normal, your doctor may then perform a simple test to check for Costochondritis. This test takes only seconds and is performed by pressing on the patient’s sternum (the bone in the middle of your chest that connects with your ribs).
Costochondritis is not a medical emergency and symptoms are easily treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like Ibuprofen, until the condition resolves on its own, usually within a few days. Most of the time there is no need to see a doctor unless you have other specific concerns or symptoms that you think could point to another diagnosis. This type of pain accompanied by profuse sweating, fainting or that spread to other areas, like the neck or jaw, warrants a trip to the emergency room.
Costochondritis can also be confused with a more serious, reoccurring condition called Tietze Syndrome. Tietze Syndrome is associated with sudden pain that also affects the shoulder and/or arm and swelling. Also, while Costochondritis lasts only a few days, Tietze syndrome usually lasts a few weeks. Any Costochondritis lasting more than a few days should be evaluated by a doctor and the diagnosis of Tietze syndrome should be investigated.