Experiencing A Sharp Pain In Your Chest?

Experiencing A Sharp Pain In Your Chest?

- in Health
Sharp chest pain

Ever have a sharp piercing pain in your chest, usually on the left side under the rib? It causes you to catch your breath, and because of it, you try not to breathe in too much because it’s painful. So you take short breaths and try not to move much. You eventually work up the courage to take a deep breath then you feel a sensation akin to a bubble bursting and the pain is gone.

Many believe that they are having a heart attack when these symptoms occur. While the pain is strong and located in that general area, the condition is not a heart attack, nor is it heart related.

What is it?

The Intercostal Muscle
The Intercostal Muscle

It’s called Precordial Catch Syndrome ( or PCS for short) and it’s the most common cause of recurring chest pain. Luckily, it’s benign and most people have experienced it at one time or another in their life.

Doctors don’t really know what causes it however, but they believe it to be either related to a pinched nerve or from an intercostal muscle spasm and after release of spasm the pain relieved.

Is Precordial Catch Syndrome dangerous?

While there is no known cure for PCS, PCS is also not believed to be dangerous. Though, what seems like PCS, could possibly turn out to be something more serious. Be on the lookout for these symptoms, as they indicate possibly something more:

  • Chest pain that extends into the left side of the jaw or arm
  • Chest pain that a person describes as a “heavy” feeling
  • Pain that does not improve at least a little after 24 hours of regular doses of ibuprofen
  • Fever
  • Cough, especially a cough that produces phlegm (“flem,” or “flame”)
  • Extreme anxiety with the pain or a feeling of “impending doom”
  • Blueness or paleness of the lips or fingernails
  • An irregular, rapid, or pounding heart rate
  • Marked difficulty breathing or catching one’s breath (different from mild pain with breathing)

Call your doctor’s office right away if any of these symptoms are present with your PCS. They could be indications of a more serious condition.

In the meantime, you can rest assured that the painful, stabbing feeling is completely normal and a minor inconvenience. Just remember, the key to getting rid of the pain quickly is to just work up the courage to take that deep breath.


  • Cassandra

    I have this problem and have had it for over 10 years. I’m 31 now. This article is SUCH a relief to me because I never know exactly what I had. I would hesitate to go to the hospital and get it diagnosed cause I had a bad feeling doctors would put me on some sort of heart medicine like nitrous glycerin for angina or something. Although often the pain was around my heart, sometimes it wouldn’t be. The would be a month where I wouldn’t have any chest pains and then there would be days where I was getting them constantly. My boyfriend said he figured it was a pinched nerve, but most of the time it was more of a spasm feeling. Sometimes I wondered if it was possible for it to be an air bubble cause it felt like that every once in awhile traveling about slightly. I often wondered if I had heart attacks cause I’d get the heavy chest feeling or the pain on the arm. Only I’ve had them so often that there is no way they were heart attacks and Ive never gone to the emergency room though once I was tempted. I’m soooooo glad there is a name for this condition!!!!!! I am self diagnosed at last. This makes me very happy that its not really a big deal and to just deal with the pain cause it will be over with eventually. Thank you Zidbits, you guys have changed my life and given me peace of mind!

    • rebecca

      I’ve had this few time before, but not like this. I am having pain in my left rib going to my armpit but under it. For an hour I couldn’t breath in or exhale and had to gingerly breathe in and out which didn’t help much. If I move at all I have extreme pain which is even worse when I lay on my back. I have two of the symptoms above in the bullet points – blueness or paleness in few fingers and marked difficulty breathing. Should I go see a doctor?

  • George z

    I’m 34, a little bit bigger build and I am having chest pains left side kinda under my arm, but not armpit – about two or three inches lower. Kinda as I write this, it started about 36 min ago. And I’m feeling tired. What could this be?

    • Anwar Burden

      There’s a chance you’re have a heart attack if you’re experiencing the pain and having fatigue at the same time.

  • Alexandria

    I’m getting this right now as I’m lying in bed and have had it since before I went into my shower a couple of hours ago I’m stuck on my side because moving is really painful especially if I go on my back there’s a pain in my left arm/shoulder this happens quite often, I’m 16 should I go see a doctor?

  • Jaime K

    I get this as well, and I always just figured it was just one of those things that some people have to deal with. Mine have happened randomly for as far back as I can remember. Never constant enough for me to go to the doctor. When it does happen I just feel a sharp pain usually somewhere within my rib cage and it’ll cause a sharper pain with inhaling/exhaling. Usually lasts about 2 minutes or so and then it’s just gone a quickly as it came. Annoying. I’ve never found anyone else who has had this, so makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one! My dad has a heart disease and due to some complications in pregnancy I’ve had echocardiograms done and everything is normal there. Guess I could mention it to my doc, but I feel relieved to know I’m not alone!

  • bolaji

    I’m only 14, is it natural to have this pain continuously at my age? Could it be stress? Please help me.

  • Chris

    Hi, I’m 17 and quite overweight which is a problem I am working on. The type of pain I am feeling is a sharp piercing pain in my heart / left side of chest under the ribcage. I keep getting them. It comes randomly. I know what PCS feels like. But this pain is different. I don’t feel pain spreading to other parts of my body. I sometimes think it would kill me but not from anxiety. Anyway it keeps coming and breathing does not remove the pain. Reply ASAP please. Kind of worried.

  • James B

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m 35 now and have had these sense I can remember. I’ve tried to describe it the others but they never understand. I have described them as chest or heart bubbles… I’ve gotten now to where I immediately take a deep breath to “pop the bubble” rather suffer from 15-30 mins of short breaths… Once the “pop” occurs I’m fine… It really does take some courage to do it… The pain sucks bad and causes major distress… Anyone else with this problem, just know your not alone. Take that deep breath and get past it and/or “pop the bubble” as I like to describe it.

  • Leah

    The first time I got this was when I was young (I’m now 16) and I was panicking. But my mom told me to relax. I guess I get this from her because she knew what to do, and everyone else doesn’t have any clue of what I’m describing to them when I get caught up by it. It doesn’t bother me much anymore though. I discovered that if I lean back as far as I could, it doesn’t hurt anymore. It also feels pretty good for my back. Maybe instead of inhaling deeply so it “pops”, sit on a stool or some backless chair and bend your upper back backwards. It usually goes away but it’s been bothering me for a few hours, but it’s not bad. I hope my little remedy helps others with this problem.

  • Jonathan L

    Age 39. Having this just now on and off lately, and have had this since very young (teens). It comes and goes. Feels terrifyingly grave when it happens, but it always goes away. Sometimes a residual pain would linger after what feels like the “bubble pop”. Very happy to find this website!

  • Joanne

    I’ve had this since I was 8 years old. It just catches you off guard and takes the breath out of you. The older I got I wondered if it was heart attack but I don’t have any of the other serious symptoms. Just the twinge of pain that feels like a bubble from my ribs to my heart. I’m not brave enough to take the huge breath to pop it as it’s blindingly painful. I just keep taking shallow breaths, increasing the air I take in over time until the pain is gone, then I brave the huge breath to check. It is scary when it happens because it’s so out of the blue.

  • Tab

    I have had this for over 15 years now and no one I know has ever understood it. It is so comforting to know I am not the only one who has had this. I get them very rarely, no more than 2x a year. But when they come I now know to lay down and relax. I can usually get rid of it within 5 minutes now just by relaxing and breathing slow.

  • Kelly

    Lately I’ve been so worried about this problem, plus my husband doesn’t understand when I explain what is happening to me. No one I know does… it’s so uncomfortable. The only thing I can do is to relax and let it pass.

  • Chloe

    Hah! Omg, I’m 27 and I’ve had these for as long as I can remember. I’m laughing right now because I’m so relieved to finally have a name for it. I’ve always described it to my parents and friends as a chest bubble that I have to pop before I can breathe normally again, but they always seemed to think I was crazy. I know my mom never seemed interested in taking me to a doctor for it when I was little since it never really affected me for long. It just freaked me out. As time went on, I stopped freaking out over it and it just became something I dealt with. “Oh, here’s another one.. *brace yourself, deep breathe* OK, moving on.” I have them way less often now as an adult, but I still have them. I recently wondered if maybe I shouldn’t dismiss them so quickly anymore (even though I’ve been getting them for at LEAST 20 years with no noticeable long term problems) and decided to do a Google search. So glad to have a name for them and know that they’re basically harmless! They still suck, but at least I know that my instinct to take that unpleasant deep breath and “pop the bubble” is correct.

  • Matthew Long

    I am 19 and I have been getting this pain for about two years… Sometimes it last a few minutes and sometimes it lasts hours or all day. Nothing relaxes the pain, no medicines help it always starts in the middle of my chest and ends up filling my chest, mid-back, and jaw with extreme pain. I don’t know what’s wrong and no doctor has been able to give me an answer or even a thought.

  • Rickard

    I’m forty and I have had this all my life. It happens once a year or so. I’ve never gone to the doctor because although sharp it does feel likes its muscular/lung rather than heart and always gone away after less than 5-10s. Very happy to find the page though! I usually just hold my breath and breath out slowly after a while and do a couple of short breaths.
    I actually view it as a stitch you get from running, which is just cramp in a tiny muscle, if you get a stitch, breath out completely and push your belly out and breath in whilst drawing in the belly. Do this a few times and the stitch is gone as this makes the muscle work and loosen up. It really works.

  • Jesse Vaudo

    I’m 27 and I started feeling this striking pain in my chest and decided I needed to see if it was serious too. This is a huge relief that it isn’t due to any sort of deteriorating heart condition.

  • David Chipere

    I am having the same problem which started about three weeks ago. I went to see a doctor and took some chest x-rays but my chest was clear with no problems or complications. It really hurts but I guess I just have to relax and hope the pain goes away soon.

  • Stephen Davies


    I have had this random sharp stabbing pain since my early teens or maybe even earlier. I am thirty years old now and have just experienced it whilst cleaning my cooker, it makes me freeze up and I am unable to breathe in, and the more I try the more painful it gets the deeper I breathe in. I have had to thump my chest before now and have nearly passed out. This page is a massive relief to me as I smoke and drink an generally only exercise occasionally these days so I’m ecstatic to hear its just a pinched nerve. :) The worries are over. Thank you very much!

    Party on!

    Ste Davies.

  • Kim

    For the past 10 years, I have been experiencing the same issue of PCS. I would get them every 2-3 months. And every instance would last for up to 2 hours at the most. My doctor told me that poor blood flow can be the cause. He recommend I take a chewable aspirin everyday. I was taking 1 every day for approximately 6 months straight and not once did I get the pain. Last month I stopped taking my aspirins and as you would expect, today I just had an episode. As soon as I took a Beyers chewable aspirin, the pain went away 2 minutes later.

  • Brad

    I have had this sharp pain all my life. I am 20 years old now and I feel its only getting worse. I’ve been to several doctors and they can’t find what’s wrong. The pain is becoming more continuous and more painful each time. Yesterday was the last time it happened. I was visiting my mother and all of a sudden I couldn’t move or breath and the pain was unbearable. My mother said I was whiter then a ghost. Lips were purple. Anyone have any suggestions or ideas on how to figure out how to calm this down? Or what I should do?

  • Jack

    I’ve had these problem since I was 13 years old (I’m now 20). I’m unsure if it’s triggered by something and I’ve been to numerous doctors about my lungs and heart and had x-rays but they say it’s nothing yet I’m still bothered by it. From time to time it gets much worse. It can cause hours of pain at a time, sometimes causing me to faint. That hasn’t happened in a while however it scares me to think I have angina or asthma or a heart attack or something else. It’s starting to frighten my family and friends that I can’t breathe and that I have to go to the hospital/doctor but it eventually passes. Also, because I’m doing nursing in university I’m starting to think that way again that I will have a heart attack or something because this still hasn’t passed and I continue to worry from time to time. Everything else I’ve read also tells me that it’ll stop (it also used to happen to my dad and it stopped for him however he does have asthma). Is there something I can do to prevent this from happening?

  • Mike Dandron

    I had this problem last night. It was the worst one I’ve ever had. It felt like a tiny fist with a lot of force behind it trying to escape the left side of my rib cage-under my heart when I finally took the deep breath. The important thing is “DO NOT PANIC”. I didn’t know what it was and threw my body into the most intense panic attack I have ever had. Had to go to the hospital because I thought I was actually dying. The popping was the worst pain I have experienced and I have broken bones, had concussions, cuts, sprains, torn ligaments, etc. Once I inhaled deeply though, the pain was gone, leaving the remnants of the panic attack. I am a 23 year old male and have had this problem before, but never this bad. Remember, slow measured breathing until you are ready for the deep inhale.

  • Dean

    I get this at least 5 times a week. I’m 15 and I have had it my whole life. I’ve slowly gotten used to it though, haha. ;)

You may also like

Does Drinking Something Hot On A Hot Day Cool You Down?

One common factoid that has been circulating the internet recently is that drinking a hot beverage on a hot day will cool you down. Is there any science behind this seemingly counterintuitive claim?