My Experience With Costochondritis

I wanted to take some time today to touch on my experiences that lead to my diagnosis of costochondritis. This blog is not meant to be a self diagnosis tool, and if you are experiencing chest pain you NEED to be checked out by a professional ASAP! I am choosing to write this blog about my experiences, because when I was going through the diagnosis process I didn’t have many resources to turn to. I could find medical terminology articles online, but not much was out there in regards to actual people who had been experiencing this. To be honest, costochondritis is still a bit of an anomaly (though I have my suspicions towards its tie to autoimmune diseases). Even as I type this, all of the medical articles I’ve found state that they truly don’t know what causes it.


It all started about five years ago. I was teaching Body Pump, Turbo Kick, & Yoga classes regularly. At about thirty-five years old, I was in great shape. I had to deal with the occasional autoimmune flare ups, having been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis around the age of thirty-one, but when the chest pain started it was definitely something new. I’ll be honest, I shrugged it off for months. It was just a dull ache for a long time, so I didn’t think anything of it. I finally brought it up at a routine doctor’s appt., and my doctor decided then and there to do an EKG. The EKG showed her an “abnormal” rhythm (I can’t remember the exact term, but it turns out that “abonormal” rhythm is actually a normal pattern for a percentage of the population, but I digress). Based on this, all of the testing began…


My doctor ordered the works – chest x-ray, stress stress, mammogram, and I think I also had an MRI as well. The chest x-ray came back normal. My mammogram came back normal minus me having to also get an ultrasound due to “dense breast tissue” (thanks, small boobs!). The stress test is a test I truly hope I don’t have to do again any time soon. If you’ve never done one, I hope you never have to either. It involved them doing an ultrasound on my heart at rest (that wasn’t the bad part). From there, I had to get on a treadmill, braless (for those without breasts you really don’t understand how uncomfortable jogging without support can be… even if small breasted), and get my heart rate up. It took about 10 minutes of a slow intensity increase. The fun part was next. With my heart pounding out of my chest I had to immediately lay back down for another ultrasound while gasping for breath and trying to hold still. At the end of the day, the doctor looked confused that I was even sent to him and simply said, “It’s not your heart,” in an almost perplexed sort of way.


Every test said nothing was wrong. I’m sad to say that this is how costochondritis is diagnosed. It’s basically the fall back diagnosis once everything that is a greater threat on your life is ruled out. Super fun, right?


What is costochondritis?

Costochondritis (kos-toe-kon-DRY-tis) is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Pain caused by costochondritis might mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions. – per


It boils down to inflamed rib cage cartilage. The fact that it has “no known cause” is truly infuriating. I’m not a doctor, but I’m lead to believe from my own experience that it’s another autoimmune side effect. When someone with an autoimmune disease has a flare up it causes inflammation throughout the body, so it makes sense to me that this would be connected. I hate that autoimmune diseases still aren’t highly understood by medical professionals and there are still a handful of older ones out there who will try to tell you that it’s all in your head and try to prescribe you anti-depressants.


I’ve learned to deal with it over the five-ish years. It comes and goes. It switches which side of my sternum to inflame. No matter what, it’s still really infuriating and scary to get sudden chest pain. Accompany that with an autoimmune flare up and you may very well find yourself rushing to the emergency room. Once that chest pain combines forces with tingling all over the body, muscle and join pain, and sometimes crazy heart burn and, yeah, you truly think you are having a heart attack. I wish more people understood what it’s like to have an autoimmune disease, but until you experience it for yourself it’s hard to understand. It’s hard to look at a person who “looks healthy” and understand how fatigued they are,  how bad their brain fog is, and how much pain they may be in at any given time.


I’m not gonna lie, this is why so many people’s dismissal of Covid-19 infuriates me when it’s now shown to trigger new autoimmune responses in people (this is exactly what the “cytokine storm” you hear about is, as well as other complications people have). I wouldn’t wish a lifelong autoimmune disease on anyone. Like autoimmune diseases, it’s still not fully understood. I know that my autoimmune disease all began with a virus – Epstein-Barr. Based on that, it’s not unheard of that other viruses will have the same long term effects on people’s lives. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist – I’m just someone concerned about health and well-being who has spent the better part of a decade trying to learn how to live and balance life with an autoimmune disease and all of the weird side effects and inflammations that come with it. All I can ask is that you do your best to take care of yourselves, the ones you love, and those around you.


I can’t tell you how to avoid getting autoimmune diseases other than that there are truly “triggers.” There are plenty of books out there you can read if you are interested. It’s best not to self diagnose, though. Sure, getting an autoimmune diagnosis can be like pulling teeth, but I’m finding more and more doctors who know them, understand them, and don’t rule them out (because they themselves are battling them and know what to look for). If you don’t feel right and have been having multiple symptoms that are worrisome, please advocate for yourself and never stop fighting to try and find out what is going on inside your body and what you can do to help improve it. The best thing I’ve found – minimize stress (both mental and physical). Easier said than done this year, hence my current super fun flare up. I do my best to get proper sleep every night, to not overdo it on intense cardio, to allow for proper bodily recovery from workouts, to eat foods that nourish my digestive track rather than inflame it, minimize alcohol, minimize sugar, and try to keep my mind calm (that’s honestly the hardest one). Autoimmune disease or not, minimizing stress is always a good idea.


If you have costochondritis I hope that you’ve found my experiences helpful, or at least relatable. You aren’t alone. I hear you. I see you. I feel you. We’ve got this.


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