Can Fibromyalgia Cause Chest Pain and Shortness of Breath?


Fibromyalgia and Pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lung lining rather than the connective cartilage of the ribs. Both costochondritis and pleurisy are due to inflammation but in different locations. The severity of pleurisy can range from mild to life-threatening.

Since many cases are mild and resolve themselves without treatment, it is hard to estimate how many people contract pleurisy worldwide.

Fast facts on pleurisy:

Here are some key points about pleurisy. Since the invention of antibiotics, pleurisy has become rarer.

  • Pleurisy lasts from a few days to 2 weeks and often resolves without treatment.
  • There are many potential causes of pleurisy, including pancreatitis, lung cancer, and chest wounds. It’s important to know that there is no evidence that pleurisy is either caused by fibromyalgia nor is it a condition of fibromyalgia.

Pleurisy Causes

A variety of factors can cause pleurisy. In many cases, it occurs as a complication of other medical conditions.

Sickle cell anemia is a potential cause of pleurisy. It is characterized by the presence of red blood cells shaped like sickles.

The most common cause is a viral infection of the lungs spreading to the pleural cavity.

Other causes include:

  • Bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • A chest wound that punctures the pleural cavity
  • A pleural tumor
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Heart surgery
  • Lung cancer or lymphoma
  • A fungal or parasitic infection
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Familial Mediterranean fever
  • Certain medications, such as procainamide, hydralazine, or isoniazid

Infections can sometimes spread, but it is rare to contract pleurisy from another person. It is not contagious.

Pleurisy more often affects people aged over 65 years, those with existing medical conditions, or those who recently experienced a chest injury or underwent heart surgery.

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Also, pleurisy and smoking are not strongly connected. Cigarettes are rarely the direct cause. However, an individual with pleurisy is advised to avoid smoking as it often leads to coughing, and this can increase the pain.

It’s important to know that ruling out pleurisy will assist in determining if your chest pain is due to fibromyalgia, costochondritis or both.

What Are the Symptoms of Pleurisy?

The main symptom of pleurisy is a sharp, stabbing pain, or a constant ache in the chest. The pain may be present on one or both sides of the chest, the shoulders, and the back. It will often get worse with the motion of breathing.

Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, or rapid, shallow breathing
  • Coughing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rapid heartbeat

A viral infection often causes pleurisy. In these cases, symptoms may also include:

  • A sore throat
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches

As you can see some of the symptoms are similar to those of fibromyalgia chest pain which is why it is important to see your physician for proper diagnosis.

Diagnosing Pleurisy

A physician will diagnose pleurisy through a physical examination and by asking about recent and general medical history.

They will search for the cause of the inflammation and rule out other potential triggers of the symptoms. Sometimes, a person with pleurisy may have a previously unnoticed rib injury or infection.

Simple physical exams will be carried out. Sometimes a doctor can hear the pleural membranes rubbing together using a stethoscope. This sound is known as a pleural friction rub.

Chest X-rays will most likely be ordered, and the doctor may take a blood sample to check for autoimmune disorders.

Fluid can build up in the lung in a process known as pleural effusion. The doctor might use a needle to take a fluid sample from the pleura for testing. This is called a thoracentesis.

Pleurisy can also be diagnosed through imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI scan. A biopsy can also identify pleurisy if cancer is suspected to be the cause.

Pleurisy Treatment

Treatment of pleurisy focuses on resolving the cause, such as a virus or other infections. Antibiotics will be prescribed if the inflammation is a result of a bacterial infection.

In some cases, an individual may need to have fluid drained from the pleural cavity through a tube that is inserted into the chest.

Pain can be managed with aspirin, ibuprofen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In severe cases, prescription pain and cough medicines may be used, including codeine-based cough syrups.

A blockage in the blood vessel that runs from the heart to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. The person with pleurisy may be placed on blood thinners if the physician diagnoses a pulmonary embolism.

If the cause is related to an autoimmune condition, such as lupus, then a rheumatologist will treat the disease with medication.

Treatment depends largely on the cause and the severity of the condition.

Costochondritis and Fibromyalgia: What Causes Costochondritis?

Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone. Depending on how much inflammation there is, it can range from a mild annoyance to extremely painful. People sometimes describe the pain as stabbing, aching, or burning – quite similar to the symptoms of FMS related chest pain.

The causes aren’t clear but may include:

  • Chest trauma, such as from a car accident
  • Repetitive trauma or overuse
  • Viral infections, especially upper respiratory infections

Some experts believe fibromyalgia may cause costochondritis as well. Regardless, FMS can make costochondritis much more painful because of the over-sensitivity to pain and the many surrounding trigger points in the chest.

Symptoms Of Costochondritis

Pain in the chest wall and rib cage is the chief symptom of costochondritis. It will get worse with activity or exercise. Taking a deep breath can also cause more pain because it stretches the inflamed cartilage. Sneezing and coughing can increase pain as well.

The pain can radiate to your shoulder and arms as well (another way the condition mimics a heart attack). Sometimes the pain is accompanied by redness and/or swelling in the most painful areas. When that’s the case, it’s called Tietze’s Syndrome.

Diagnosis of Costochondritis

Your doctor can diagnose costochondritis by pressing on the area where the ribs and breastbone come together. If it’s tender and sore there, costochondritis is the most likely cause of pain.

Doctors generally will perform other tests to rule out heart problems and other causes of pain before making a diagnosis. I was given an EKG to determine there were no heart issues involved when I began to display symptoms.

Treatment of Costochondritis

You can treat costochondritis the way you’d treat any inflammation – ice and anti-inflammatory drugs, including Aleve (naproxen) and ibuprofen-based medications such as Advil and Motrin.

This treatment sometimes runs counter to fibromyalgia treatments, which can include other types of pain relievers and heat. If you have both, you might find yourself with an ice pack on your chest and a heating pad on your back at the same time. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist about any possible interactions between anti-inflammatories and your other medications.

Your doctor may recommend other types of treatment as well, including physical therapy or acupuncture.

Living With Both Conditions

It’s bad enough to live with one source of chronic pain. The more you heap on, the more pain you’ll have and the more it can impact your life.

Fortunately, costochondritis is fairly easy and inexpensive to treat, and managing it will keep it from exacerbating your fibromyalgia symptoms.

Resources

Healthline (Fibromyalgia and Chest Pain)

VeryWell (Costochondritis Chest Pain in Fibromyalgia)

Medical News Today (What should I know about pleurisy?)

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