Any non- medical person may not be familiar with the xiphoid process. To make it simple, xiphoid process is the end part of sternum, the breastbone. It is a tiny bone, triangular in shape attached with the body of the sternum. Sternum lies in the middle of chest. The ribs are attached to it to form the ribcage.
During childhood, xiphoid process is a flexible cartilage tissue, but it forms into a bone as the child becomes adult. Due to its flexibility during childhood, it protects the growing organs underlying it, such as the portion of heart, esophagus etc.
Though uncommon, xiphoid process can get swollen due to direct injury to the chest. The condition is also known as xyphoidynia. The characteristic symptoms are pain and tenderness on touch or while lifting heavy object or bending.
Swollen xiphoid process may take time to heal. It may be few weeks or months. Anti- inflammatory medications, heat, and change in lifestyle and work may help to enhance the healing process.
Causes Of Swollen Xiphoid Process
- Xiphoid process is a tiny bone of sternum. A direct injury to chest and particularly a blow on the xiphoid process can cause swelling of xiphoid process. As a result the xiphoid process becomes tender and painful. The condition is often called xiphodynia.
- Besides direct collision on sternum and xiphoid bone, lifting heavy weight, sudden twisting etc can strain the bone and it may become inflamed. Excessive coughing as in emphysema and whooping cough can also cause swelling of xiphoid bone.
- Sometimes the pain and tenderness in xiphoid area may be due to problems related to heart, gallbladder and bone diseases. Therefore it is necessary to distinguish between symptoms of pain and tenderness in the xiphoid area due to other diseases and that of swollen xiphoid process.
- Xiphoid process can get inflamed and swollen due to overenthusiastic pressure put on xiphoid process during cardiac massage in case of heart failure.
Swollen Xiphoid Process Symptoms
Pain and tenderness over xiphoid process are typical symptoms of swollen xiphoidynia. Often the pain is severe while you cough or laugh. It is in the last part of sternum, the area in medical parlance is called epigastrium.
- If the condition is severe even normal breathing may be associated with pain.
- There may be tenderness in the back.
- Lifting, bending and twisting may become difficult due to pain and tenderness.
- It can affect the daily routine of a person. He may find it difficult to do his daily work.
- Slight pressure over xiphoid process can give rise to severe pain.
Certain other conditions should be ruled out which cause similar pain in epigastric area, the commonest is reflux esophagitis. Inflammation of gall bladder can cause pain in xiphoid area. The other important ailment is angina which can mimic similar pain in chest and xiphoid process.
If you sustain severe chest injury, the xiphoid process may break and form a bump, which can be felt when you palpate the chest.
How To Treat Swollen Xiphoid Process?
Pain and tenderness in xiphoid process should not be neglected. You should consult your physician as soon as possible. Usually after a detailed medical history, examination and certain tests such as X-ray and MRI, the physician can diagnose the condition related to swollen xiphoid process.
- Anti inflammatory medication and analgesics usually alleviate pain and swelling.
- Fomentation with warm water is extremely beneficial in relieving pain and tenderness. Heat increases circulation in the affected area which helps to reduce swelling and pain. You should alternate it with ice fomentation.
- Wear a rib belt around the thorax. It restricts the movement and allows the xiphoid process to heal quickly.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects or doing strenuous work which may cause irritation to ribs and xiphoid process.
The swelling and symptoms of damage to xiphoid process may take few weeks to heal.