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Costochondritis -- Tietze's Syndrome

What is costochondritis?

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Updated April 09, 2014

Costochondritis is a condition that causes chest pain due to inflammation of the cartilage and bones in the chest wall. Also called Tietze's Syndrome, costochondritis occurs when there is inflammation at the junction of the rib bone and breastbone (sternum). At this junction, there is cartilage joining these bones. This cartilage can become irritated and inflamed. Depending on the extent of the inflammation, costochondritis can be quite painful.

What causes costochondritis?
It is often difficult to indentify a single cause of costochondritis. This condition is thought to be bost commonly due to repetitive microtrauma, or overuse. This means that activities are causing repeated damage to the cartilage of the chest wall leading to inflammation. The most frequently affected age group is young adults between 20 and 40 years old. Costochondritis can also been found as an overuse injury in athletes, in particular this condition has been identified in competitive rowers.

Costochondritis can also be found after a traumatic injury. For example, a car accident where the driver's chest strikes the steering wheel can cause costochondritis by injuring the ribs and cartilage on the front of the chest. Viral infections, usually upper respiratory infections, have also been identified as a cause of costochondritis.

What are the symptoms of costochondritis?
Most patients with costochondritis experience pain over the front of the upper chest (the area of the sternum). Because of serious conditions, most importantly conditions related to heart problems, costochondritis should only be diagnosed after excluding other more serious problems.

Costochondritis pain is usually worsened by activity or exercise. Often the pain is worsened when taking a deep breath. This stretches the inflamed cartilage and can cause significant pain. Touching the area involved by costochondritis can be extremely painful for the patient.

Because of the many nerves that branch away from the chest, pain may be experienced in the shoulder or arms as well. When called Tietze's Syndrome, the pain from costochondritis is accompanied by redness and or swelling in the areas most tender.

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