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Costochondritis Overview

Costochondritis is inflammation of the junctions where the upper ribs join the cartilage that holds them to the breastbone (sternum). Costochondritis causes localized chest wall pain and tenderness that can be reproduced by pushing on the involved cartilage in the front of the rib cage. Costochondritis is a relatively harmless musculoskeletal chest pain and usually resolves without treatment. The cause is usually unknown. Costochondritis affects females more often than males (70% versus 30%).

  • Costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain in children and adolescents. It accounts for 10%-30% of all chest pain in children. Annually, doctors evaluate about 650,000 cases of chest pain in young people 10-21 years of age. The peak age for the condition is 12-14 years of age.
  • Overall, costochondritis is one of the most common causes of musculoskeletal chest pain.
  • While chest pain can represent heart disease and heart attack, inflammation around the heart (pericarditis) or lungs (pleuritis), costochondritis is also considered as a possible diagnosis in adults with chest pain.
  • Tietze syndrome is also a cause of localized musculoskeletal chest pain that is distinguished from the more common costochondritis.
    • As opposed to costochondritis in which there is no swelling, Tietze syndrome is accompanied by a localized swelling at the painful area (the junction of the ribs and breastbone).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2015

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Chest Pain: Is It Costochondritis?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad St?ppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Pain in the chest wall around the breastbone (or sternum) is the most characteristic feature of the condition known as costochondritis. Medically, the term chondritis refers to inflammation of any cartilage in the body. Costochondritis refers specifically to inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone (called costal cartilages). The chest pain of costochondritis sometimes is severe.

Costochondritis usually, but not always, involves one side of the breastbone. Sometimes the pain can extend to the shoulder or arm on the involved side. When costochondritis is accompanied by swelling of the areas surrounding the cartilage, the condition is called Tietze syndrome. In Tietze syndrome, the swollen area of the inflamed cartilage may be tender to the touch, and the skin overlying the cartilage may be reddened.

Costochondritis is most common in people between 20 and 40 years of age. In most cases, doctors do not know why the condition develops. Trauma to the chest wall may lead to costochondritis, and it also is believed that viral infections, particularly upper respiratory infections, may cause costochondritis. The condition also can occur as a feature of more generalized diseases of inflammation such as certain forms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Costochondritis »

In contrast to myocardial ischemia or infarction, costochondritis is a benign cause of chest pain and is an important consideration in the differential diagnosis.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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