Chest Pain And Exercise: Is It Heart Pain Or Something Else?

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If you experience chest pain every time you exercise, you may think that you're having a heart attack. Although chest pain is usually the first sign of a heart attack, it can also develop from hidden health problems that mimic heart pain, such as inflamed ribs. The pain in your ribs can feel worse when you exercise and subside after you complete your workout. If you don't treat your inflamed ribs, they may develop scar tissue or an infection that spreads to your heart. Here's how inflamed ribs affect you and what you and a heart specialist can do to protect your health.

How Can Inflamed Ribs Cause Problems With Your Heart?

Costochondritis, or inflamed ribs, develops when you experience an infection or injury in the cartilage or bones of your rib cage, which is the large set of bones that surround and house the organs in your chest and back. The infection or injury can trigger pain in your chest that feels very similar to heart pain. For instance, both conditions can affect other locations in the upper body, such as your stomach and back. Both conditions also make you feel short of breath. However, there are some very important differences between rib pain and heart pain you should know about.

Heart attacks typically develop when you have blockages or diseased tissues inside your heart. The attacks can also show up if you experience clogged arteries in your arms, legs or another area of the body. The symptoms of a heart attack can occur at any time, even when you lie quietly in bed. Heart attack symptoms can also make you feel tired, lightheaded and nauseous. In many cases, you experience the symptoms of a heart attack several days before you have one. Inflamed ribs typically don't create those type of symptoms. 

The symptoms of inflamed ribs begin when you become active and stop once you become inactive. In most cases, you won't notice the symptoms of inflamed ribs until you engage in high-intensity activities that increase your breathing, such as aerobics and running. The pressure created by your lungs as they expand and contract may aggravate the damage in your rib cage. Your rib cage is designed to move or expand when your lungs do. Because most cardio exercises increase the speed of your breathing, the pain in your ribs can also increase. 

It's a good idea that you see a heart specialist or doctor to determine the extent of injury to your rib cage. In addition, a heart doctor can also check your chest cavity to see if the damage to your ribs didn't spread to your heart.

What Can a Specialist Do to Help You?

A heart specialist can examine your ribs with chest X-rays, or radiographic imaging. X-rays may reveal the location and condition of your damaged ribs, as well as any internal bleeding around your ribs. Sometimes, internal injuries break open the blood vessels that support organs, which keeps the organs from healing properly. 

Scar tissue is another problem the X-rays can reveal. Scar tissue develops when cells attempt to repair damaged or diseased tissues. If the scar tissue grows too much, it can spread to the organs inside the rib cage, such as the lungs and heart. The excessive scarring has the potential to limit the functions of the affected organs.

If a specialist finds any of the above issues in your ribs, they can offer surgery to treat the scarring and internal bleeding. Medications that reduce your pain during exercise may also be of assistance. In many cases, a specialist may limit the type of exercises you do to help you avoid pain. You may need to see a physical therapist for a new exercise plan that works best for you. 

Keep in mind that if a heart specialist locates any problems with your heart when they examine your ribs, they'll take the appropriate steps to treat you. In this case, you may need to take medications that prevent heart attack and other conditions that place you in danger.

For more information about your chest pain, schedule an evaluation with a heart specialist like those from Alpert Zales & Castro Pediatric Cardiology