Overview

Costochondritis (kos-toe-kon-DRY-tis) is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Pain caused by costochondritis might mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.

Rib cage and breastbone

Costochondritis

Costochondritis most commonly affects the upper ribs on the left-hand side of your body. Pain is often worst where the rib cartilage attaches to the breastbone (sternum), but it can also occur where the cartilage attaches to the rib.

Costochondritis is sometimes known as chest wall pain syndrome, costosternal syndrome or costosternal chondrodynia. Sometimes, swelling accompanies the pain (Tietze syndrome).

What causes costochondritis is unclear. Treatment focuses on easing the pain while waiting for the condition to improve on its own, which can take several weeks or more.


Symptoms

The pain associated with costochondritis usually:

  • Occurs on the left side of your breastbone
  • Is sharp, aching or pressure-like
  • Affects more than one rib
  • Can radiate to arms and shoulders
  • Worsens when taking a deep breath, coughing, sneezing or with any chest wall movement

When to see a doctor

For chest pain, seek emergency medical attention to rule out life-threatening causes such as a heart attack.


Causes

Costochondritis usually has no clear cause. However, costochondritis might be associated with trauma, illness or physical strain, such as severe coughing.


Risk factors

Costochondritis occurs most often in women older than 40.

Tietze syndrome usually occurs in teenagers and young adults, and with equal frequency in men and women.


May 11, 2022

  1. Ferri FF. Costochondritis. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2022. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
  2. Phillips K, et al. Management of isolated musculoskeletal chest pain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
  3. Frontera WR, et al. Costosternal syndrome. In: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 24, 2022.
  4. Wise CM. Major causes of musculoskeletal chest pain in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

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