Thursday, December 08, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Chest wall pain — called costochondritis — has nothing to do with the heart. Yet, the sharp pain, which can come on suddenly or gradually, can seem similar to the pain associated with a heart attack.
The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter provides an overview of this usually short-lived condition. Costochondritis is due to inflammation in the rubbery cartilage that connects ribs to the breastbone. It can afflict anyone, including children, and is most common in women and people over age 40. Costochondritis may cause a specific area of pain and tenderness, usually on one side of the breastbone in one or more places where the ribs attach to the breastbone. Pain is usually sharp, although it may be dull or gnawing. In addition, pain may occur with deep breaths and coughing and may intensify when arms are raised.
Generally, costochondritis can't be seen on chest X-rays or other imaging tests that may be done to rule out other possible causes.
Costochondritis usually goes away on its own. Treatment focuses on managing pain while the tenderness improves over time. In some patients, pain lingers for several months. For mild symptoms, nonprescription painkillers may offer adequate relief. For lingering symptoms, physicians might prescribe antidepressants or pain medications.
The Mayo Clinic Health Letter reminds patients to always seek emergency care for new or unexplained chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few moments. For pain that is less alarming, or tenderness in the breastbone that doesn't improve, it's reasonable to make an appointment with a physician to determine the cause.
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