The pain in your chest is so deep and real and ugly that you’ve been terrified that it might be a heart attack. It’s a real relief to hear the Emergency Room doctors say the problem is in your ribcage rather than your heart. But, as you’re given a diagnosis of costochondritis or Tietze syndrome, do you wonder how they know?
Web MD explains that costochondritis as “a painful inflammation of the costchondrial joint connecting the ribs to the breastbone or sternum.” The condition, which typically has no definite cause, causes pain but not swelling in the front chest wall.
Because there is no laboratory or imaging test for costochondritis, the condition is generally diagnosed by a physical exam, according to Mayo Clinic. Patients may still undergo a battery of testing, but those tests are done to exclude other potentially more serious causes. They will not show any evidence of costochondritis.
Tietze syndrome is described by The National Institutes of Health Genetic and Rare Disease Center as “an inflammatory condition characterized by chest pain and swelling of the cartilage that joins the upper ribs to the breastbone (costochondral junction).” You will often hear that the swelling is what sets Tietze syndrome apart from costochondritis, but it’s not the only thing. While costochondritis can only be diagnosed by physical exam, evidence of Tietze syndrome will show up in medical tests.
MedicineNet reports that tests that of blood’s sedimentation rate and its levels of C-reactive protein, both of which are measures of the amount of inflammation present in the body, can help confirm a diagnosis of Tietze syndrome. In people suffering from costochondritis, these tests will be normal. Radiopadeia notes that an MRI will show thickening of the affected cartilage and detectable changes in the cartilage, bone marrow and ligaments in the painful area. Ultrasound and CT scans can also detect changes in the painful area, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information’s PubMed.
Although many doctors seem to use the terms interchangeably, costochondritis and Tietze syndrome are not the same thing. Costochondritis is often diagnosed by a physical exam after other causes are ruled out. While Tietze syndrome may be diagnosed that way, it is also shows up in both blood tests and medical imaging tests.
To find more of Bree Shaw’s articles about costochondritis and Tietze syndrome click here.