Costochondritis is a painful chest wall condition, caused by inflammation in the joints of the rib cage.
Costochondritis is a painful condition of the chest wall. It causes chest pain. People who get chest pain are often frightened they have a heart or lung problem. Fortunately, if the pain is due to costochondritis, there is no need to panic, as it is not a life-threatening condition and it does usually get better on its own with time.
The pain you get if you have costochondritis comes from the protective cage formed by your ribs, and not from the heart or lungs or blood vessels inside your chest. More specifically, it comes from one or more of the joints between your ribs and your breastbone (sternum). These joints have become inflamed if you have costochondritis.
How common is it?
It is hard to be sure exactly how common it is, as lots of people probably have it but don't bother to go to their doctor. It seems to be quite common. Of the people with chest pain going to see their GP, about 1 in 5 have a cause related to the muscles, ribs and joints in their chest wall. (For people attending Accident and Emergency departments, chest pain is more likely to have a more serious cause.)
What is the outlook?
The outlook for costochondritis is generally very good. Most cases are mild and settle quickly - most within 6-8 weeks. This happens with or without simple medications. In nearly all cases, the condition has completely gone within a year. Occasionally, if you are unlucky, it lasts longer. Costochondritis may return; however, this is unlikely.
Further reading and references
Proulx AM, Zryd TW; Costochondritis: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Sep 1580(6):617-20.
Chest Pain; NICE CKS, April 2015 (UK access only)
McConaghy JR, Oza RS; Outpatient diagnosis of acute chest pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Feb 187(3):177-82.
Gijsbers E, Knaap SF; Clinical presentation and chiropractic treatment of Tietze syndrome: A 34-year-old female with left-sided chest pain. J Chiropr Med. 2011 Mar10(1):60-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2010.10.002. Epub 2011 Jan 21.
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