Expert Q&A: Chest Pain and RA

Having rheumatoid arthritis may cause chest pain. Learn when to contact a doctor. 

Question: Sometimes it feels like the bones in my chest hurt. Is it RA or am I having heart problems?

Answer: Pain felt in the bones of your chest is likely due to costochondritis, or inflammation of the cartilage where the ribs attach to the breast-bone. Although it is not as common as inflammation in the joints of the hands, elbows, knees or feet, it is not uncommon in RA. Unlike the pain of a heart attack, which radiates to other parts of the body and is often accompanied by symptoms such as nausea or light-headedness, the pain of costochondritis is localized to the center of the chest. It may get worse when you take a deep breath or press on your ribs. Neither of these actions will affect the pain of a heart attack. Because chest pain can be caused by other problems it is important to see your doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms of a possible heart attack, including pressure in your chest accompanied by pain in neck, jaw, shoulder or arms, call 911 or get to the emergency room immediately. While the pain of costochondritis is troublesome, it is usually not long lasting. Pain-relieving medications including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen along with cold and/or warm compresses can make you more comfortable until it passes.

John Higgins, MD

Sports Cardiologist

McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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