Costochondritis

Definition

All but your lowest 2 ribs are connected to your breastbone by cartilage. This cartilage can become inflamed and cause pain. This condition is called costochondritis. It is a common cause of chest pain.

Causes

There is often no known cause of costochondritis. But it may be caused by:

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of costochondritis are pain and tenderness in the chest. You may feel:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam. The area where the ribs meet the breastbone is checked. If this area is tender and sore, costochondritis is the most likely cause of your chest pain.

A chest x-ray may be done if your symptoms are severe or do not improve with treatment.

Your provider may also order tests to rule out other conditions, such as a heart attack.

Treatment

Costochondritis most often goes away on its own in a few days or weeks. It can also take up to a few months. Treatment focuses on relieving the pain.

Pain medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), may help to ease pain and swelling. You can buy these without a prescription.

You may also take acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead, if your provider tells you it is safe to do so. People with liver disease should not take this medicine.

If your pain is severe, your provider may prescribe stronger pain medicine.

In some cases, your provider may recommend physical therapy.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Costochondritis pain often goes away in a few days or weeks.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 or go to your local emergency room right away if you have chest pain. The pain of costochondritis can be similar to the pain of a heart attack.

If you have already been diagnosed with costochondritis, call your provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

Prevention

Because the cause is often unknown, there is no known way to prevent costochondritis.


Review Date: 10/8/2018
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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