How a painful costochondritis flare led to my AS diagnosis

Finding answers was a relief after years of unexplained chronic pain

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by Janneke Phung |

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“Oh, my goodness, am I having a heart attack?”

It was just after 1 a.m. I had felt achy in my ribs and chest area for several nights in a row, but this was something altogether different. The pain was sharp and severe. Breathing hurt so bad I wondered if I would pass out. The intensity of the chest pain was unexpected and unnerving.

I thought for sure I’d be dead before I even got to a hospital.

I gingerly sat up in bed and focused all my efforts on trying to breathe. Soon, short and shallow breaths became manageable. But the acute pain associated with sucking air deep into my lungs made normal breathing impossible.

I crawled out of bed, shuffled around the house for a while, tried to stretch, and got my bearings. The pain dwindled, but intense exhaustion replaced my panic. And the realization that my three young kids would soon be waking up had me crawling back into bed. I tucked a few pillows under my head and lay back so that I was slightly reclined, which added comfort.

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Something is clearly wrong

A few weeks earlier, I had scheduled an appointment with my family doctor for that morning to discuss the ongoing health issues I was experiencing. I told my doctor about the mysterious episode in the middle of the night. Yet even to my own ears, the story sounded sensational; it was only a few hours after it happened and I seemed to be doing just fine. So often, it seemed, my pain was severe and dramatic in the moment it was happening yet so minor and melodramatic after the fact.

At the time, I didn’t know that I would soon be diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS). I also didn’t know what costochondritis was, nor did I realize I had experienced several severe costochondritis flares. What I did know was that something was wrong with my body.

As it turns out, inflammation is what was wrong with my body. Only a few months after this first costochondritis episode, a long-awaited MRI of my back led to an AS diagnosis. All the aches and pains I had experienced over the years could be traced back to inflammation caused by AS. Costochondritis was simply another location (the cartilage in my chest and ribs) for inflammation to present itself.

The good news: I wasn’t having a heart attack.

The diagnosis brought relief. This progressive and incurable autoimmune disease explained all the pain I’d been experiencing for decades. Finally, I had a starting point for treatment and validation for all my melodramatic visits to medical professionals!

Thanks for reading! You can learn more about my story, browse starch-free recipes, or peruse the stories of others who successfully manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications on my website. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and recipes.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


George avatar


Costochondritis for me came later, shortly after my long delayed AS diagnosis. I have felt the powerful, constricting, scary force of it very many times, often at night. I still get it now, but only as the temporary result of some activity and it's in no way comparable to when it was scary. I had so many things working me over from AS that I wasn't complaining loudly enough about the spine (rather I just mentioned the back problems in passing) to get the diagnosis I needed. I bet that if would have had the chest-sternum compression much sooner, it should have led to a years-earlier diagnosis. I don't know what else can cause it. When I began to experience costochondritis, I knew immediately exactly what was happening and why.


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