How to spot symptoms of costochondritis

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Costochondritis is a painful condition. It causes inflammation and tenderness of the cartilage along the area where the ribs connect to the sternum, i.e., the costochondral joints. The causes are not exactly known for this condition, but it is generally believed that certain things trigger costochondritis. These include a blow to the sternum and/or rib area, an infection in the costochondral joints, perhaps caused by a surgery, and overuse of the muscles and joints surrounding the sternum. There are many symptoms of costochondritis. This article will explore how to spot the symptoms of costochondritis.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • potential visit to doctor
  • health insurance to cover doctor visit cost
  • time to rest and recover

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  1. 1

    Check for chest pain. This will be your first clue to look further to see whether you have costochondritis. The chest pain will generally be on either side of the sternum, near the third to fifth ribs. The pain will usually be severe, but can also be dull and aching. Most often, the pain is more severe on the left side.

  2. 2

    Gently touch the area to the left and right of your third to fifth ribs. If you feel tenderness when you press on the joints and cartilage connecting your ribs to your sternum, this is a strong indicator of costochondritis.

  3. 3

    Take a deep breath. With costochondritis, the pain will increase when you take a deep breath, or when you get out of breath from exercise, for example. If the pain decreases as you become restful and lie down, this is another way to spot costochondritis.

  4. 4

    Check for difficulty breathing. If you find it hard to take deep breaths because of pain, this is a symptom of costochondritis. It will be hard to lift anything, or to walk up stairs, for example. The added breath necessary places pain on the costochondral joints.

  5. 5

    Cough, but be careful! A way to spot costochondritis is that there will be great pain when you cough. If you cough and it hurts the area along the sternum, this is an indication of costochondritis.

  6. 6

    Visit the doctor. Your doctor will be better able to diagnose costochondritis and rule out other medical conditions. You could have strained muscles that are causing pain in the area, or you could have a heart condition. Unfortunately, costochondritis doesn't show up on X-rays as a broken rib would so there are limits to a doctor's ability to diagnose costochondritis.

  7. 7

    Check for swelling in the area along the sternum. If swelling is present, you may have Tietze's Syndrome. Have your doctor check for swelling to rule out Tietze's syndrome. Sometimes swelling will show on an MRI or a CAT scan. The doctor can order one of these tests to be done on you to distinguish between the two conditions.

Tips and warnings

  • It is always a good idea to seek medical attention if you are having chest pain.
  • If you have chest pain in the sternum area, especially to the left of your sternum, you could be having a heart attack or other heart problems. Do not take the pain lightly! Seek medical attention immediately to rule out heart problems, especially if you also have nausea, sweating and left arm pain.
  • Not all doctors are familiar with costochondritis. You may have to specifically mention it as a possibility to make sure your doctor checks for it!

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