Question for Betty.

I'm having severe pain in my back between my ribs and along to the front of my chest that is stopping me from sleeping and making it difficult to eat.  Is it possible to strain your intercostal muscle?  Should I take anti-inflammatory medication?  Should I come in the Student Health and Counseling Center for an appointment?

Betty's Answer.

Chest pain is a very common symptom requiring medical attention.  Chest pain can be a sign of a cardiac emergency, or of a less emergent musculoskeletal problem.  Chest pain may be a sign of a heart attack, causing chest discomfort, pressure, or pain.  The pain develops in the center of the chest, behind the breastbone (sternum), and may travel to the neck, jaw, or down the left arm.  It usually lasts more than 3 to 5 minutes.  This is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention by calling 911. 

In your case, any pain which is causing you to lose sleep and making it difficult for you to eat would warrant a visit to your health care provider.  You may have a musculoskeletal problem, such as costochondritis, or you may be having cardiac or pulmonary problems.  It is important to see your health care provider for an evaluation.  If the pain is musculoskeletal, it may be increased by deep breathing, turning, or with arm movement.  If you are diagnosed with a musculoskeletal problem you may be advised to take a NSAID such as ibuprofen.  Schedule an appointment with the Student Health and Counseling Center as soon as possible for evaluation.