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Pain below Sternum

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The sternum is the bone connecting the ribs, being situated in the central part of the thorax. When a person experiences pain below sternum, it is often an indication of a digestive disorder. The intensity of the pain can range from mild to severe, this symptom being accompanied by other modifications. By identifying the correct cause of pain below sternum, one can also recommend a proper course of treatment. The important thing is that you do not delay visiting a doctor, as the pain can be the symptom of a serious underlying condition.

Pain is the number one symptom that brings people to the doctor. When it happens right below the sternum, it is only normal that one thinks about the organs in the area, such as the stomach or the pancreas. If there is a lot of pain that appears in relation to a meal, then a person might end up avoiding eating altogether. Dealing with the pain below sternum should be a top priority, as the underlying condition that exists can become worse with the passing of time. The correct treatment can prevent the advancement of the condition and the potential complications, eliminating the pain and other related symptoms.

Causes of Pain below Sternum

pain below sternumThese are the most common causes that can lead to pain below sternum:

Esophagitis

  • The esophagus becomes inflamed and irritated because of all the acid that comes back from the stomach
  • The patient experiences pain below sternum, has difficulty swallowing and describes a burning sensation on the throat
  • This condition is aggravated by drinking hot liquids, smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Might also be caused by medication or repeated vomiting.

Gastro-esophageal reflux

  • This condition is defined by the production of excessive acid in the stomach, refluxing into the mouth
  • Apart from the pain below sternum, the patient experiences a burning sensation on the esophagus that in time can lead to esophagitis
  • The acid reflux can cause a bitter taste in the mouth.

Respiratory conditions

  • The list includes lung lining inflammation, emphysema, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma
  • The patient experiences chest pain, along with state of general discomfort, fever and coughing
  • If there is a bacterial or viral infection, the patient might also have difficulties breathing
  • A chest X-ray can reveal the exact type of respiratory condition, followed by a series of pulmonary tests and blood counts that can reveal the pathogenic agent.

Muscle strain

  • Excessive physical training or         lifting objects that are heavy can lead to a strain in the abdominal muscles
  • If the physical activity involved twisting of the trunk, while the rest of the body remained on position, then the oblique abdominal muscles might be the ones suffering from the strain
  • The patient will experience pain below sternum, which will be even more intense if the muscle has ruptured

Acute pancreatitis

  • This is a highly serious condition, leading to pain below sternum that becomes aggravated when the person is lying down
  • Apart from the pain, the patient will have problems with the digestion, the stools will be modified in color and the entire abdomen will swell
  • This condition occurs when the pancreatic ducts are blocked, among other causes
  • Immediate treatment is necessary, before the condition becomes life-threatening

Trauma to the sternum

  • If a person is involved in an accident or receives a blow of the sternum, there is a very good chance for that person to have a fractured bone
  • Depending on the intensity and severity of the trauma, the patient might experience a lot of pain below sternum as well
  • Immediate consultation is mandatory, so as to assess whether there are international injuries or not.

Other conditions

  • Constant burping
  • Abscess/collapse of the lung
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Stomach ulcer (gastric/duodenal)
  • Lung cancer.

Treatment for Pain below Sternum

These are the most common courses of treatment recommended for pain below sternum:

Symptomatic treatment – anti-inflammatory medication (acetaminophen) can help a person deal with the actual pain

Treatment of the underlying condition:

Esophagitis:

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  • Medication to reduce the excessive production of acid in the stomach (anti-acids)
  • Antibiotics – in case of infectious organisms causing the problems
  • Avoidance of alcohol intake and giving up smoking

Gastro-esophageal reflux

  • Eliminate acidic/fatty/spicy foods from the diet
  • Anti-acid medication
  • Not lying down after a meal

Respiratory conditions

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Anti-viral medication for viral infections
  • Symptomatic treatment for the symptoms
    • Anti-inflammatory medication (acetaminophen)
    • Bronchodilators to improve breathing

Muscle strain

  • Cold pack applications
  • Refrain from physical activity
  • Anti-inflammatory medication to deal with the pain
  • Stretching exercises after the rest period
  • Surgery in case of severe muscle rupture

Acute pancreatitis

  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Antalgic medication for the pain
  • Stomach pumping to eliminate content
  • Surgery – removal of tissue that has become infected or has suffered necrosis

Trauma to the sternum

  • Surgery
  • Anti-inflammatory medication for the pain

Other conditions

  • Constant burping
    • Anti-acid medication
    • Change of lifestyle (better diet, more physical activity)
  • Lung abscess
    • Procedure to remove infection from the lung
    • Antibiotics to eliminate the infectious organisms
    • Supportive care in more severe cases
  • Lung collapse
    • Immediate medical treatment – emergency removal of air under pressure, the surgeon inserting a needle into the chest
  • Hiatal hernia
    • Control of the diet
    • Surgical correction
  • Stomach ulcer
    • Change of lifestyle
    • Anti-acid medication
    • Surgery
  • Lung cancer
    • Chemotherapy/radiotherapy
    • Surgery, followed by supportive care.

In conclusion, there are many conditions that might lead to pain below sternum. The most important thing is that they are correctly diagnosed and the correct treatment is administered. Some of the conditions that were mentioned above can become life-threatening, requiring immediate and urgent medical attention. Always consider the other symptoms, besides the pain below the sternum and bring the patient to the emergency room. Supportive care might be necessary for some of these conditions, as they do not guarantee long-term survival.


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