The Other Chest Pain – Costochondritis

I’ve always been an avid basketball player. Of all the sports out there, I find basketball to be one of the few sports that has the fewest barriers to start playing. But living in San Francisco, a city that tends to be fairly cold year around, I find it difficult to play ball outdoors. So back in December 2006, I found one of the few full-fledged indoor basketball courts near San Francisco – a ClubOne facility in Oakland. I headed over there and played ball. I played for about 4 hours straight. The last time I’d exerted myself like that was back in high school.

Soon after I was done, I noticed that I was surprisingly short of breath. I sat in the locker room thinking about how I’d gotten through 4 hours and not felt a thing (I’ve since noticed that typically the adrenaline overrides any sensations that I may have been feeling while I play). What was bothering me even more was this heavy feeling I had in the left side of my chest. Against my best judgement, I decided to suck it up and go home. I was convinced that I wasn’t having a heart attack – I was 26 and in pretty good shape. There was no way. Right?

I woke up the next morning, and didn’t feel any better. My chest pain had gotten worse. So I headed to the ER at UCSF Parnassus and got myself checked out. After an epic wait of about 3 hours, and some fairly simple tests, the physicians concluded that I was perfectly fine. The diagnosis was … fatigue. The medication … advil. I was asked to go home and rest. Several days passed and the chest pain got better but it didn’t go away entirely. I did my due diligence and Googled the heck out of this condition. Try googling for “chest pain”. Trust me, it will scare the living daylight out of you. You will be convinced that you’re having a heart attack.

That was in late 2006. Since then, the chest pains come and go intermittently. They are extremely painful when they happen. The issue usually gets aggravated after an exerting workout. Sometimes, I think I’m on the verge of a heart attack.

I followed through after going to the ER back in 2006 and got tested by a cardiologist who concluded that there was nothing wrong with my heart whatsoever. I saw a doctor who was convinced that I had acid reflux (GERD) that was causing me the discomfort. I got on medication for fixing acid reflux. Another doctor was convinced that it was likely an issue with my throat. I was asked to participate in a swallowing study (no jokes – and I did them). Nothing was wrong. These doctors were using a process of elimination to try to figure out what was wrong with me.

There have been days when I’ve told myself that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I’d feel otherwise (I used to work out regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – the day after the workout, I’d feel like the muscles in my chest were in a knot). So I stopped working out. And I felt better.

A couple of years ago, I found a new medical practice – the OneMedical group. I had a new “group of primary care physicians”, as opposed to just one. At the time, I was also having frequent headaches that I attribute to my bad allergies. Finally one of the doctors at OneMedical asked me to see Dr. Greenberg about my headaches. Here we go, I thought – more referrals, more running around. I went to Dr. Greenberg and he spent a solid 20 minutes asking me questions – that was unlike anything any other doctor had every done. He asked me if I had any other conditions that he should be aware of – I casually told him about the chest pains not really expecting any kind of a response.

Me: No other conditions really, just these occasional chest pains – my doctor thinks its acid reflux. I’ve had it for years.
Dr. Greenberg: Ah, Costochondritis.
Me: Wait, what? You have a name for this condition?
Dr.: Yeah, it’s not uncommon and it’s benign. No big deal. Let’s get back to the headaches.
Me: So I can ignore the chest pains? Will they go away?
Dr.: Oh yeah. Think about it – your ribs expand and contract all your life as you breathe. Occasionally, they cause discomfort if you exert yourself too much. They may not go away but nothing to worry about. Apply Volatren the next time you feel discomfort.

Holy shit. Here I thought I’ve been having mini heart attacks for the last 4 years. I’ve been diagnosed. And of course better yet, it’s not that big a deal!

Costochondritis. The other chest pain. From wikipedia:

Costochondritis is a benign inflammation of the costal cartilage, which is a length of cartilage which connects each rib, except the eleventh and twelfth, to the sternum. It causes pain in the chest that can be reproduced by pressing on the affected area between the ribs. This pain can be quite excruciating, especially after rigorous exercise. While it can be extremely painful, it is considered to be a benign condition that generally resolves in 6–8 weeks. Though costochondritis appears to resolve itself, it can be a recurring condition that can appear to have little or no signs of onset. These episodes can be years apart from one another. Treatment options are quite limited and usually only involve rest and analgesics but in a very small number of cases cortisone injections and even surgery are sometimes necessary.[1]

Costochondritis symptoms can be similar to the chest pain associated with a heart attack.

So, why am I writing about this? Why now? A few months ago my friend Cyrus pinged me on IM and told me about  a friend of his who was googling Carnaval in Rio. Turns out she stumbled upon my post on Carnaval and saw a picture of Cyrus in my post. What a small world I thought…

So I’m writing about this chest pain I’ve had on the left side of my chest for the last 4.5 years in the hope that somehow this post will get indexed. And that someone googling for chest pains who is not really having a heart attack (if you think you’re having chest pains and you’re really having a heart attack, trust me, you wouldn’t be googling it at the time) and has been through their fair share of doctors who are at best ‘guessing’ about a patient’s condition knows that there is likely another reason.


PS: I’ve been quiet about this recent onslaught upon Google and search result quality in general. This is a great example of where something like PageRank can work against you. Basically, if I were to trust Google’s results, I would have been convinced that I was having a heart attack.

13 thoughts on “The Other Chest Pain – Costochondritis

  1. Ha ha! Great article! I was diagnosed with this condition today. Like you, I thought I was having a heart attack. I’m 33 and am in reasonably good health, walk (almost) every day, don’t smoke, drink or use drugs (though I do snack and drink a lot of pop). So, this was a relieving diagnosis. I do hope it goes away though, as it’s a bit uncomfortable to inhale at the moment.

  2. Thanks for putting your article on the web.  I have just been diagnosed – last week and had ECG and blood tests beforehand.  I am on anti-inflamatory medication but still feel ill.  Off  to GP this afternoon  in case the tabs are causing more probs.  Never heard of this condition before but very interesting and supportive to read your story.  I am 62 and an asthmatic – think possibly a recent chest infection and cough could have started this off but who knows……

  3. Hi, thank you very much for this post, though I only chanced upon this site under the search term ‘Costochondritis’…

    It was very comforting reading your post, it’s like reading my life story. My chest pains have been around for about 6 years, getting worse with time, and recently, every single time I exercise. Was introduced to this medical condition by the doctor I visited today. It is pretty surprising that I’ve never ever saw this on the internet, despite all the googling I have done.

    Will be doing an ECG tomorrow, well.. just for the sake of it. And I will share your post with my friends soon :)

    Anyway, did you receive any treatment in the end?

  4. I just found out about this too at the doctor’s office today and googled your post. The pain I had was so sharp and took my breath away at first. Turns out I was overexerting on the fly machine at the gym. Got the same prescription of resting and taking Advil.

  5. I’m so glad I found this! I wish it was at the top of the search postings! 

    I myself had some severe pain and thought that I was having a heart attack. Went to the ER, they did an EKG, x-rays, blood work, hooked me up to a heart monitor and blood pressure/oxygen monitors for two hours. All the tests cam back great! I was diagnosed with anemia, which led to fatigue and eventually the costochondritis. I am just over a week out and the pain is starting to lessen. Wish I would have seen this before I read all the other articles that made me think I was dying! (Caused me to pretty much have a panic attack that is now haunting me just a little bit.I am a mother of young children and would like to be around for a LONG TIME)Thanks for the post!

  6. Gosh! I’ve found you too. Also been diagnosed with costochondritis and GERD. I can barely swallow and having an endoscopy – i hope this will rule out anything sinister. I thought my symptoms started with either my car being hit on a roundabout or pushing a laden pram through thick snow! (not recommended)
    I have lost my appetite . The only positive thing is it means I also lose weight. I too work out but now try and do nothing on my upper body.
    I did see a physio who works on acupuntute points with a laser as well as manipulation. My upper spine took a fair clicking and there was some improvement but I am seizing up again.
    Couple of long flights recently so now suffering with IBS and bloating too!! How attractive!
    Bordering on 40. Mother of 3. Undergoing lots of stress of some legal matters for 3 years.
    Sorry I sound a bit negative. I am just trying to help too. It’s good to find your site. Thank you for writing it.
    I don’t take meds as prefer au naturel. Saying that I have been told endoscope is no fun and I should opt for sedation!! Vv

  7. Wow! This may be the answer to my problem. I also have chest pains the day after exercise. The doc and a cardiologist have pretty much eliminated heart problems. I’m going to do more research on 
    Costochondritis. Thanks for posting!

  8. So just a thought, I’ve had the same thing for about a year now, but when it flares, i go to my chiropractor and he pops it a little, and immediate relief. Won’t keep it from happening again, but it provides imitate relief!!

  9. This happens to me too. I even went to the ER once for it – that day I had also experienced so much fatigue and anxiety I couldn’t concentrate at work and was almost falling asleep at my desk. So hubby rushed me to the hospital on the Air Force base nearby and their diagnosis was the same as your last doctor. I was sent home after being fed a warm meal for my blood sugar and given a bottle of Aleve. I’ll just say I felt pretty embarrassed after finding out that’s all it was. But dang, it hurts, and it’s scary!

  10. Recently I had done a lot of work in the yard and started feeling ill with chest pains. I thought it was costochondritis as I had separated my ribs from the sternum years ago and occasionally still get pain. My PCP insisted that I go to the ER – and indeed I was still having a heart attack. 2 stents and 3 heart caths later, the pain is still there -but the cardiologists say it isn’t my heart. This means it probably was costochondritis and I was just very lucky.

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