The chest wall is made up of the ribs, the sternum, and cartilage. Occasionally, infections of the chest wall might appear to only involve the skin, but may actually represent a deeper infection of the ribs, cartilage or other structures.

  • An example of a chest wall infection includes an empyema: a fluid that collects in between the chest wall membranes (pleura) and the chest wall.
  • Causes of chest wall infections have various causes, including infections that can occur after a surgical procedure, to secondary infections – infections that have spread to the chest wall from infections in other parts of the body.
    • Examples of secondary infections, causes or risk factors include having:
      • Pneumonia
      • Trauma or injury to the chest wall
      • Tuberculosis

Chest wall infections may also manifest in various ways, such as:Pleuritis: an infection of the chest wall membranes (pleura)
Costochondritis: the inflammation of the chest wall cartilage that connects ribs to the sternum (the breastbone)


Symptoms of Chest Wall Infections

The most common presenting symptom of a chest wall infection is chest pain. Chest pain may increase with activity or worsening of the infection. Other symptoms include

  • Chest tenderness and swelling
  • Pain when taking a deep breath
  • Fever
  • Dry cough

Diagnosis of Chest Wall Infections

Possible diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests – a blood test may help diagnose an infection.
  • Chest X-rays
  • CT scans – may be used to identify inflammation in areas of the chest.
  • Ultrasound
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) – and EKG may help to rule out heart problems as a cause of your chest pain.
  • Bronchoscopy – may be used to chest wall tissues or the airway to look for signs of infection.

Treatment for Chest Wall Infections

Chest wall infections are often treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. However, certain chest wall infections may require surgery to remove the infection, along with possible reconstruction of the chest wall.