The Unknown of Costochondritis
Years ago I remember an incident where I was on the subway in Manhattan going to work and had a rolling suitcase with me for a business trip. While standing and waiting to get to my stop with all of the hustle and bustle going on around me, my body temperature rise, I began to sweat, and became somewhat dizzy. I then noticed that by taking a deep breath my chest really hurt. The only comfort in breathing was when I held my chest really tight during breaths to ease the pain.
Thank goodness for my suitcase as I became so lightheaded that I needed to sit on my bag for support or else I would have fallen to the floor.
My heart began racing and I was worried I was going to pass out.
Being a New Yorker, I knew that I had to keep myself together as the subway was not a place to pass out especially without someone there to help me that I knew.
Not really sure how, but I managed to get myself off the train and outside to catch a cab to take me to the nearest emergency room. I didn't really think I was having a heart attack and thought what if I had asthma and was having an attack.
After a number of tests I was told that it was not a heart attack or asthma and more likely a condition called costochondritis.
I was like, costro-what?
I had never heard of this condition and knew nothing about it…so, to be honest, I thought it was something they made up to make me feel better. So, I forgot about it right after I left and never thought about it since.
My symptoms went away after a few days of taking acetaminophen. Then, it wasn’t until years later, after forgetting all about this condition that another episode happened again and I had no idea what was going on nor did I think that it was costochondritis.
I was away for the weekend with my husband visiting a relative and remember having a hard time breathing. I was really uncomfortable and couldn’t relax due to the pain. Laying down was especially difficult as the pain increased. I even tried my husband’s asthma inhaler trying to get in some extra air and failed to even take a puff.
Upon returning home the pain continued and we went straight to the emergency room near our home. It was not my heart nor was it asthma. It was costochondritis.
Now I was listening.
There was no rhyme or reason as to why these symptoms were popping up out of nowhere. After doing some research and looking into this condition further I learned that it is an inflammation of the cartilage that attaches the ribs to the breastbone and trauma may cause it. For example, bumping the rib cage, getting a virus or experiencing stress could bring on the inflammation.
The cause is typically unknown.
Apparently, there are several types of arthritis that may affect the costochondral joins. I have a history of arthritis in my family so it was starting to make sense.
While this syndrome is not serious the symptoms mimic those of several dangerous conditions. Severe pain could show up at moment’s notice without any warning. This condition occurs spontaneously at any age and many times without specific causes, and there is no way to prevent it.
I told my twin sister about these experiences I was having, which really did happen few and far between. It turns out that she has this condition as well. She didn’t think to mention it because she too thought it was not a big deal. Her episodes were limited as well and not as intense as my experiences. It was the first time I had ever heard of someone else having this condition.
The problem with this condition is that you suffer symptoms and have to wait them out. It turns out that this condition is most painful in the early stages, which would explain my first incident, and lessens in symptom severity over time. Phew!!!
As far as management, apparently rest, heat or ice where the pain hurts and over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen help to easy to pain and inflammation.
You can bet I am listening now. What is incredibly scary is that while I now know what to expect when I experience any of the symptoms, I cannot assume it is due to costochondritis as these symptoms could also be the result of other serious health complications such as heart attack , digestive problems or even bone cancer. So, I likely will have to see a physician anytime these episodes happen to rule out any major health issues that require immediate attention and management.
What has your experience been with costochonritis?