The sternum, or "breast bone," can sometimes be broken. The result can be a host of symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions such as a heart attack. Still others may ignore the pain and discomfort in a misguided attempt to "allow it to heal on its own." Knowing some of the symptoms and warning signs of a broken sternum can help you seek the appropriate medical advice and return to normal, pain-free activity sooner. As with any medical condition, it is important to seek professional medical attention immediately if you experience these, or any, chest symptoms.
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In the cases of a minor fracture, you may experience pain and swelling along the centre of your chest. Also, the area where the sternum is fractured will be tender to the touch, both because of the trauma and because of the heightened sensitivity caused by the swelling.
In some cases a serious fracture could lead to severe chest pain, difficulty breathing and chest deformation. Some people may mistake these symptoms for a heart attack (myocardial infarction), which makes sense because of the similarity of the symptoms.
Regions of the Sternum
There are three regions of the sternum that may fracture independently of each other or in combination, depending upon the causes of the fracture. The three regions are the manubrium, which is a triangular bone at the top of the chest and connects the clavicle with the sternum; the corpus (or "body") of the sternum, which articulates and connects the first seven ribs; and the xiphoid process, which is a small triangular piece of bone pointing down toward the pelvis. In some cases, these three bones may fuse partially or incompletely during growth instead of becoming a single bone process.
Causes of a Sternum Fracture
Active causes of a sternum fracture are typically high impact to the centre of the chest. Weightlifting, martial arts or boxing bouts and vehicular accidents are some examples of where the sternum can be cracked through physical activity and trauma.
The most common medical causes of sternum fractures are osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta. Osteoporosis is a disorder in which a person, usually a woman past menopause, has problems absorbing enough calcium to maintain the integrity of her bones, thus causing them to become "porous" or riddled with holes. Osteogenesis imperfecta, also called "brittle bone disease," is a genetic disorder in which Type 1 collagen, an important component of processing calcium into bone structure, is lacking or deficient. This causes the bones to be formed imperfectly and thus makes them brittle and prone to breaking at even the slightest trauma (in some cases, the act of walking).
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