Just what is that sharp pain in my chest on the left? Is it my heart?

Do you ever get a piercing pain on the left side of your chest, usually under your rib?

You catch your breath. It may hurt to breathe. And, it scares the bejeebers out of you. You begin to panic and you are afraid to move or breathe. You may keep your cool but you breathe more slowly and are distracted from whatever else you may be doing. It never seems to happen on the right side of your chest. So it just has to be your heart, right? While you are checking for other symptoms of a heart attack, the pain vanishes and doesn’t return. Or it does. Over and over again. You realize you have no other symptoms. Is it gas? You wonder. You hope. But why is it always on the left of the chest? It’s maddening.

What is this painful and uncomfortable sensation? It is actually a very common condition and most people have experienced it. The medical term for this occurrence is Precordial Catch Syndrome or PCS.

Many people become paranoid and worry that they may be having a heart attack at the onset of this type of pain. While the pain is strong and located in an area that would seem like the heart, this condition is not a heart attack, nor is it heart related. Precordial Catch Syndrome (PCS) is the most common cause of recurring chest pain. It is also sometimes known as “a stitch in the side” or “Texidor’s twinge”. It occurs most often in children and teenagers, but does persist into adulthood as well. I am 51 and I get this. The pain occurs just under the left nipple, near where you feel the heart beat most strongly on the front of the chest, and comes on very suddenly.

This extremely sharp pain causes a person to not want to move or breathe. This is where the “catch” part of the name is derived. Any movement or breathing only seems to intensify the pain. The pain usually lasts for around 30 seconds to 1 minute before disappearing. Sometimes the pain will suddenly disappear upon taking a strong breath or moving suddenly as well. This can almost feel like a pop of an imaginary bubble. After the pain is gone, there is usually a dull ache that lingers. It can occur frequently, sometimes several times a day, and can occur when exercising, resting, or when in virtually any other state. Doctors have not been able to correlate PCS with any particular triggers, such as heavy activity or the like. However, there are some doctors that believe things like heavy or irregular breathing or even posture could play some type of role in bringing about an episode of PCS.

Medical Professionals are baffled that they cannot accurately pinpoint the cause but the most accepted theory is that the pain is the result of a pinched nerve somewhere. Due to the fact that the onsets of PCS are so quick and disappear just as quickly, it’s hard for doctors to actually see the condition in action. While doctors aren’t sure of the actual causes, they are sure that it poses no danger. They believe PCS to be benign and that there is no cause for alarm. For this reason, there is not a lot of information or studies regarding the physical cause of PCS available. Doctors feel no urgency to research further what they know to be only a minor inconvenience.

The only real worry is that sometimes, what seemed like PCS, could possibly turn out to be something more serious. The following are signs of more concerning illness:

– 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
– 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)

If any of these occur, please be sure to call your doctor’s office right away. These could be indications of a more serious and potentially threatening condition.