Chest Pain Reasons
I woke up in the night because of acute chest pain. First scary thought: heart attack. My wife called the ambulance. When the doctor arrived he took an EKG reading and said that my heart was okay and I was probably suffering from Tietze syndrome. A little earlier, I had experienced a minor chest trauma while trying to unscrew something big on my car. So this is how I become aware of Tietze syndrome, which is quite a rare – but still an unpleasant – condition involving painful inflammation of cartilage in the chest area.
As I said above, pain in the chest naturally leads me to think about heart attacks. Fortunately Tietze syndrome is relatively benign, at least compared to a heart attack. Knowing how to distinguish one from the other can mean the difference between life and death, so I will quickly summarize how the symptoms of Tietze syndrome differ.
In Tietze syndrome the pain is usually confined to a small area, while the pain of a heart attack tends to spread more widely. In a heart attack there may be a feeling of tightness, pressure and anxiety, and the pain may travel to the arms and other parts of the body. It may be accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, light-headedness and nausea. If that’s what you’re feeling, call the emergency services immediately.
Tietze syndrome’s symptoms include a sharp pain in the upper ribs, along with tenderness and swelling around that area. The pain will intensify if you move your ribs suddenly, or sneeze or cough. Those symptoms may arrive suddenly or develop gradually. To understand what’s going on, I need to mention the names of some bones and other elements of the skeleton. As I already said, Tietze syndrome is an inflammation of the cartilage. Cartilage is a kind of connecting tissue. Among other places, it can be found covering the ends of the bones in a joint. It helps to hold the bones together and provides shock absorption.
The joints affected in Tietze syndrome are the one between the ribs and the breastbone (sternum), known as the costochondral joint, and the joint between the breastbone and the collarbone (clavicle). I discovered, when looking for further information on Tietze syndrome, that it is sometimes confused with a similar condition, costochondritis, but in that case there is no swelling. Why the cartilage becomes inflamed, we don’t know for sure, but inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to various types of infection, irritation or injury. In this case, the factors could include respiratory infections, a troublesome cough that puts strain on the chest, excessive strain from hard exercise, or some kind of accidental damage.
Normally you can expect the pain and tenderness of Tietze syndrome to go away on its own, after a few weeks, but the swelling may remain for a while longer. In some patients, however, it can keep coming and going for years. And this is probably my case. The symptoms can be relieved by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, if necessary, but if they are very severe your doctor may turn to something stronger such as a corticosteroid injection.
But all of the above is just theoretical to me. I have recently found my own simple remedy that helps me, if not completely to eliminate the disease, to obtain great pain relief. I put my left hand flat on the affected area of my chest and tap slightly with my right fist, through the left hand. The tapping must be really gentle but should be continued for at least 5 minutes. Don't be afraid of the loud chest sound.
And one more very simple tip for anyone with Tietze syndrome: rest is the best cure. Strenuous exercise is likely to aggravate the condition, as will household tasks that involve stretching to reach something at a height, so if an activity hurts, don’t do it!