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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Cracked Rib From Coughing
September 2000

Q. Is it possible to crack a rib from coughing due to bronchitis? Is this a sign of weak bones? How long does a cracked rib take to heal?

A.Yes, it is possible to crack a rib from coughing. However, in my experience, it is rare. If this did occur, I would be very suspicious of underlying bone disease such as osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), or even a malignancy of the bone. Certainly, one should have a thorough evaluation if this happened, including complete physical exam, blood tests, x-rays, DEXA bone density scan amongst possibly other testing. It may take several weeks to even a few months for a rib fracture to heal. Pain meds may be taken as needed until the pain subsides. What is much more common is simply a strained chest wall muscle from coughing, which can be quite painful initially, but is not considered serious, and should get better much quicker than a rib fracture.

References: Ben Shiller, MD

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