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My handbag caused my chest pain

I had some alarming experiences with chest pain in December. I’d be sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband when suddenly a sharp stabbing pain would hit me right in the middle of my chest, on the breastbone itself.

The pains scared me. I would reach for my husband’s hand and breathe deeply until the pain subsided and then sit there worried as to what could be wrong.

I’ve had the feeling that comes with heart attacks (from serious anaemia) and this pain wasn’t at all like that so I reassured myself that my heart was fine, but I was worried. Of late, when I worry, I tend to have a panic attack. To alleviate panic attacks I breathe slowly and deeply. This was calming but the deeper I breathed the more pronounced the dull pain was on my sternum.

The pains were bearable and eventually subsided completely but then started happening more frequently and even during the day.

Finally I plucked up the courage to go to my doctor where I learned that truly nothing was wrong with my heart. One of my rib joints was inflamed.

Costochondritis is apparently most common in children and teenagers. In adults it affects more women than men and researchers say it’s more common in those over 40. It’s inflammation of the joint where the cartilage meets the breastbone, the costosternal joint. Most cases have no apparent cause and treatment is focused on pain relief.

My doctor prescribed the anti-inflammatory Celebrex. Familiar with the brand from TV ads, I was pretty scared to take it as it can damage the stomach lining and the kidneys.

Researching the condition I discovered most people can heal naturally without any medication. I contemplated this route for a while but decided the pains were coming more frequently and that I should take the medication. I took it for a few days and then stopped because I had to be drug-tested for a job. Feeling fine, I didn’t resume. But when I came down with a cold two weeks ago the symptoms returned.

Costochondritis is aggravated by deep breathing yet although I was only breathing through only one nostril, the pain in my chest got so bad I couldn’t sleep.

Learning that respiratory infections can trigger the condition, I resumed taking the medication.

While most cases of costochondritis have no clear cause, physical chest injury, physical strain of the chest by strenuous coughing, heavy lifting or intense exercising, arthritis, tumours both cancerous and non-cancerous, and joint infection have all been shown to play a role.

In writing this article I discovered what caused the condition in my case. It was my big heavy bag. I usually lug quite a large bag, weighing between 20 and 30lbs, over my shoulder. My shoulders have a natural slope and the bag pulling down one side caused strain in my neck and rib cage.

Children commonly develop the condition from carrying heavy school bags.

Apart from medication, treatments may also include gentle stretching exercises, nerve stimulation or applying heat or ice to the affected area. My doctor advised me against strenuous exercise, and told me to try not to worry.

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Published February 12, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated February 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm)

My handbag caused my chest pain

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