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Costochondritis - Is it Heart Disease or Costochondritis

Costochondritis is a Mild Condition and Easy to Treat

By Nancy Larson

Updated December 14, 2008

(LifeWire) - Worried about chest pain?

It's wise to be alert to the possibility of heart disease or a heart attack, but keep in mind that the cause just might be costochondritis, which is painful, but usually harmless and a condition you've probably never heard of before now.

Pain, tenderness and soreness near the breastbone (usually on the upper left side) are symptoms, and the pain gets worse if you stretch or apply pressure to the sensitive area. Inflamed cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone is the cause.

But it's critically important that a doctor diagnose your condition as soon as possible. The absence of other symptoms -- like pain that spreads out ("radiates") to the neck or arms, numbness, fever and chills -- will help rule out heart attack.

What caused the inflammation is often never discovered, but injury to the chest muscles (in contact sports, for instance) or an infection developed while suffering from a cold or the flu are frequent culprits. Women, and especially those over 40, are more likely than others to develop this condition.

Treatment is simple: Reduce the pain and rest. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) may be prescribed -- or Tylenol (acetaminophen) if you can't tolerate NSAIDs. Corticosteroid injections are also a possibility.

To help yourself:

  • Stop doing whatever makes the pain worse.
  • Use a heating pad several times a day.
  • Slowly return to regular activities.
  • Stretch before exercising.

Costochondritis usually clears up in a week or two if you follow prescribed treatment.

Read here about the many causes of chest pain.


"Costochondritis ." med.umich.edu. 4 May 2005. University of Michigan. 24 Nov. 2008 <http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/aha/aha_costocho_crs.htm>. 

"Costochondritis." nlm.nih.gov. 17 Oct. 2006. National Institutes of Health. 24 Nov. 2008 <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000164.htm>. 

"Standard of Care: Costrochondritis." brighamandwomens.org. 2007. Brigham and Women's Hospital. 24 Nov. 2008 <http://www.brighamandwomens.org/RehabilitationServices/Physical%20Therapy%20Standards%20of%20Care%20and%20Protocols/T-spine%20-%20Costochondritis.pdf>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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