Costochondritis is a fundamentally benign, yet painful disorder that causes inflammation and sometimes swelling of the costal cartilage that joins each rib to the sternum (with the exception of the 11th and 12th ribs which are free from the sternum), resulting in chest pain and often mimicking a heart attack.
Costochondritis is considered to be the most common, non-cardiac cause of chest pain and emergency department presentations for heart attack-like symptoms. It often causes a sharp, intense pain to areas surrounding the chest, ribs, sternal and even retrosternal and can be described as a stabbing pain, crushing pain, and even tightness. The pain can be intense and people often state that they feel like they’re having a heart attack.
Treatment for costochondritis usually involves basic analgesia measures, anti-inflammatory medications and rest. In general the condition is self-limiting and resolves after rest. In severe cases of costochondritis, corticosteroid injections may be of some benefit.
What causes Costochondritis?
A very mild amount of costochondritis may occur during later stages of pregnancy and is thought to be related to the increased abdominal pressure.
How to Differentiate Between Costochondritis and a Heart Attack
All chest pain should be treated as cardiac in nature until proven otherwise. In pre-hospital care, this is realistically impossible to differentiate between costochondritis and an acute coronary syndrome. These are the common differences between costochondritis and a heart attack:
Costochondritis will have increased pain on palpation, whereas cardiac chest pain will not change on palpation.