That Sharp, Stabbing Sensation You Sometimes Feel in Your Chest Could Be Caused By a Common Condition

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Have you ever just been at work, grocery shopping, or out to eat—you know, just going about your typical day—and suddenly you feel it. That sharp, stabbing pain around your heart. You clench your chest in agony. This is the moment when it ends.

Most people assume a pain near your heart could mean the onset of a heart attack, or at least be a precursor to one. But luckily, this sharp pain likely has nothing to do with a heart attack. Phew.

The pain you’ve felt probably near your chest has something to do with a condition called precordial catch syndrome (PCS). It’s a pretty common condition in older children and young adults that causes sharp stabbing pains in the chest, and often leads to unnecessary anxiety, the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point reports.

How do you know if you have PCS?

One of the telltale signs it’s PCS and not a heart attack is that the pain of PCS may get worse when you breathe in and out, or just do any type of movement at all. It may also change from sharp to dull after a few seconds or minutes, and usually the pain happens around one small area. The pain can vary from just being an “annoying” pain to a shooting stabbing type of pain.

The pain of PCS usually lasts just a few minutes, and goes away almost as quickly as it comes on. Don’t worry—though it may initially feel that way, PCS is not serious! While the cause of PCS is unclear, one theory suggests it could be stress-induced. PCS is believed to be caused by cramping of certain muscle group, Flow Psychology reports. But experts do know one thing: It has nothing to do with your heart, so you can breathe easy. Kind of.

The pain of PCS usually occurs when you’re at rest (so it likely won’t jolt you awake out of a deep sleep) and usually during a moment of changing body positions abruptly or when slouching.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PCS at the moment, but that’s because it doesn’t typically affect people’s days too terribly. Once the pain is gone, you can return to your normal activities pretty quickly. Ibuprofen or another pan reliever might be able to help you feel better.

So, let’s recap. PCS can cause:

• Brief moments of pain lasting only a few seconds or minutes

• Sharp, sudden onset of pain, but may eventually switch to a dull pain

• Localized pain happening in one area

• The pain typically happens during some form of abrupt movement

• The pain worsens as you breathe in or out

You can rest assured that if you have everything above with no further symptoms, you’re not having a heart attack. So how do you know if it’s a heart attack instead? Heart attacks are usually associated with lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, cold sweat, nausea, indigestion, and more. The pain around the heart usually feels more tight and constricted.

No matter what kind of pain you’re feeling, it’s always good to get clarification from a healthcare professional. Speak with your doctor about what you’re feeling and see what type of treatment is right for you.

Did you know PCS existed? Have you ever experienced PCS-related pain, or have thought your chest pain was a heart attack? Do you feel better now knowing you’re likely perfectly healthy?