Tietze's syndrome 

Introduction 

Tietze's syndrome is inflammation of the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone (sternum).

Cartilage is tough but flexible connective tissue found throughout the body, including in the joints between bones. It acts as a mould and a shock absorber, cushioning the joints.

The area of cartilage joining your ribs to your breastbone is known as the costochondral joint.

When the costochondral joint becomes inflamed, it results in pain, tenderness and (in the case of Tietze’s syndrome) swelling over the ribs and cartilage around the breastbone. Read more about the symptoms of Tietze’s syndrome.

What causes it?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, irritation or injury. It is not known why the costochondral joint becomes inflamed, but in some cases it has been linked to:

  • upper respiratory tract infections, such as sinusitis and laryngitis
  • severe coughing, which strains your chest area
  • injury to your chest
  • physical strain from strenuous exercise

It is not known how many people are affected by Tietze’s syndrome in the UK, but the condition is believed to be rare. Tietze’s syndrome is more common in young adults.

Tietze’s syndrome vs costochondritis

Tietze’s syndrome is sometimes confused with another similar condition called costochondritis. Costochondritis is also an inflammation of the costchondrial joint, which causes pain and tenderness, but there is no swelling.

The rest of these pages refer to Tietze’s syndrome, but the advice is also applicable to costochondritis.

Outlook

Tietze's syndrome tends to improve on its own after a few weeks. However, you may still have some swelling after the pain and tenderness have gone.

Many people can relieve the symptoms of Tietze’s syndrome themselves with rest and by using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to control the pain and swelling. Read more about the treatment of Tietze’s syndrome.

The symptoms of Tietze's syndrome can disappear very quickly or come and go for several years.

Page last reviewed: 30/05/2012

Next review due: 30/05/2014

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