Why Do I Get Sharp Pain My Chest

We have all experienced chest pains at some point in our lives and immediately thought to ourselves, ‘is this it?’

It’s time to put our fears to rest and do a deep dive into what may be the cause of our chest pains. 

Sharp chest pains can be a cause for worry, as it can signify something serious like a heart attack. However, before jumping the gun and assuming the worst, that sudden sharp pain you are experiencing might signify something less threatening, which does not mean its the end of the world!


One tends to assume that sharp chest pain has to do with issues related to the heart and lungs, and in most cases that may be true, however, in other cases, it may indicate an underlying issue elsewhere. According to a study published by JAMA in July 2016, only 6% of individuals visiting the emergency department (ED) suffering from chest pain actually have life-threatening diagnoses.

Possible causes of sharp pain in the chest

Emergency causes may be the following

  • Heart attack: typical signs of a heart attack include a dull, crushing type of pain in the centre of your chest that does not go away with medication. It can radiate to your jaw, left arm and back and in some rare cases can even present as a tummy ache. Other symptoms include sweating and cold clammy extremities
  • Aortic dissection: signs of aortic dissection include a ‘ripping’ type of back pain that does not go away with medication along with a stabbing type of chest pain. It occurs especially in individuals with extremely high levels of cholesterol in their circulation

Seek urgent medical attention if you have these types of symptoms, and call an ambulance right away. 

Other causes:

  • Angina: Angina is a warning signal from the heart muscle that it isn’t receiving the oxygen and blood that it requires in order to function

 There are two types of angina: stable and unstable angina. Stable angina is chest pain while performing physical activity while unstable angina is chest pain at rest. Other symptoms include underarm pain and pain or a tingling sensation along the left arm. It is best to consult a physician to see if you have angina and to understand the underlying cause of the same. 

  • Pericarditis: Pericarditis refers to inflammation of the lining of the heart. There could be a number of reasons for this, but most commonly is due to viral or parasitic infections. Pericarditis is a central, burning type of chest pain that only goes away in the kneeling position (also known as the ‘prayer’ position or Mohammedan position)
  • Heartburn: Heartburn, otherwise known as acid reflux, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or simply put, indigestion, happens when stomach acid regurgitates from your stomach into your oesophagus (also known as your food passage). This can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest

Heartburn is one of the most common causes of chest pain. Symptoms include:

  • Stomach ache
  • Burping
  • Nausea
  • Bitter taste in the back of the throat 
  • Passing wind
  • Your chest feeling ‘blocked’ 

The most common reasons for heartburn are:

  • Eating spicy, pungent foods
  • Drinking alcohol 
  • Not eating anything for extended periods of time 
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Heartburn does not require a trip to the hospital and can be treated with medications such as Sodium bicarbonate tablets (for example, Rennie tablets) and Gaviscon. If you experience heartburn regularly, your doctor might prescribe you medications known as proton-pump inhibitors.

  • Muscle/Bone pain: The heart and lungs are protected by the ribcage, which if affected can present with its own set of issues

Just like any other bone or muscle in the body, the ribcage and its muscles can get affected by stress and strain, such as injuries from working out, lifting heavy objects, or sustaining injuries from a fall. The muscles can also get sprained, leading to sharp chest pains. 

Other causes of muscle and bone pain include:

  • Costochondritis: inflammation of the cartilage in between the ribs and the breast bone 
  • Osteochondritis: inflammation of the rib cartilage
  • Rheumatic conditions such as polymyalgia rheumatic, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • In very rare cases, bone tumours located in the ribcage can also lead to bone pain and sharp chest pains
  • Breast pain: Breast pain (also known as mastalgia) can present as sharp chest pain

Breast pain is a common symptom seen in women of all ages. There are two types of breast pain - one linked to the menstrual cycle and one that isn’t. The one that is linked to the menstrual cycle is known as cyclical breast pain, while the other type is known as non-cyclical breast pain. 

Cyclical breast pain: as the term suggests, cyclical breast pain occurs intermittently, due to fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Both breasts are usually affected, with many women complaining of heaviness and lumpiness of the breasts during this period. This usually ceases to occur after menopause. 

Breast pain may also occur during the initial stages of taking hormonal contraception.  

Non-cyclical breast pain: Non-cyclical breast pain could occur due to:

  • Breast injuries 
  • Breast tumours (either benign or cancerous)
  • Rashes on the breast 
  • Stress, anxiety 
  • Nerve impingement and irritation
  • Individuals with larger breasts could also experience chest and back pain 
  • As a side effect of certain drugs, i.e antidepressants

It is important for women to keep going for annual mammograms and check-ups to mitigate any risks of breast lumps and cancer. 

  • Lung issues: chest pain can also be triggered by underlying lung problems, such as


Pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lungsPneumothorax, which is excess air inside the lungs 

Asthma, particularly episodes of asthma attacks 

Lung collapse, which occurs in accidents and injuries to the chest 

Chest infections

Pulmonary hypertension, which refers to the elevated blood pressure in the lung’s circulation.

Consult your physician if you have recurrent symptoms such as a cough, breathing problems and chest pain. 

  • Anxiety: Especially in this day and age, it is not uncommon to be fraught with anxiety and stress over daily proceedings; however, this comes with some nasty side effects, such as chest pain, which seems similar to a heart attack. Anxiety, stress and panic attacks all have similar physical manifestations, such as insomnia, dizziness, fainting, restlessness, breaking into a sweat and palpitations (a fast, pounding heartbeat)
  • Shingles: shingles is a painful rash caused due to infection of the skin and nerves supplying it by the varicella-zoster virus

Other symptoms of shingles include headaches, fever with chills and digestive problems. 

Abdominal issues: other issues that could manifest as chest pain include:

  • Peptic ulcer (Stomach ulcers)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Gallstones, cholecystitis (gall bladder inflammation)


A heart attack is definitely one of the most daunting things to think about, and the minute we so much as feel a little niggle in our chest, we automatically assume the worst. However, there’s a very low chance that the chest pain you experience from time to time is a heart attack - it could be any of the reasons above. 

With that being said, it is always advisable to visit your physician for a thorough examination, a chest X-ray or a scan, and some blood tests. Your physician might even suggest an ECG, which is a monitor that helps detect any heart abnormalities. 

So relax, take a deep breath - it’s not as bad as you think it is.


  1. Sharp and Sudden Pain in Chest: What Causes It? Healthline [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Jun 1]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-attack/sudden-sharp-pain-in-chest-that-goes-away-quickly.
  2. Sharp stabbing pain in chest that comes and goes: Causes and treatment [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 1]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sharp-stabbing-pain-in-chest-that-comes-and-goes.
  3. What Causes a Sudden, Sharp Pain in the Chest? Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Jun 1]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-causes-a-sudden-sharp-pain-in-the-chest/.
  4. Johnson K, Ghassemzadeh S. Chest Pain. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 1]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470557/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nandini Menon

MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) - MS Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore, India

Nandini is a Doctor from India with a passion for artificial intelligence, and has an eye for seeking out what shapes the future of healthcare.
She is currently doing her Masters in Clinical Critical Care at the University of Glasgow, Scotland and is the acting Student Representative for her course. She is actively working towards a future in medical writing to help educate the public on the advancements in the healthcare industry.

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