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cardiologist cambridge clinic

Stabbing Chest Pain

Do I need to worry about stabbing pain in my chest? 

Most of us, at some point in our lifetime, will experience pain or some sort of discomfort in our chest. 

How does someone know whether this of concern?

The good news is in that in most cases this is not something to worry about. However, we can ask if the chest discomfort is heart-related or not and, if so, whether this needs urgent attention or more routine investigation.

Let us describe a typical scenario: you are going through the hustle and bustle of daily life. Suddenly, you feel a very localised and stabbing pain on the left side of your chest. It does not stop you from doing what you are doing, but it is noticeable and, therefore, causing you some concern. It might change with sitting down or standing or it might get worse or improve with a different posture. You can almost pinpoint it with your finger and it might even worsen if you touch the area. However, it does not get worse if you take a brisk walk, climb stairs or lift heavy objects. You have had the pain for two to three hours. Other than that, you have no other symptoms, you don’t feel breathless nauseated or that you are about to collapse. Are these symptoms of any concern?


The answer is- likely not. This is what doctors usually refer to as “atypical chest pain”. This is a broad term to describe a symptom that is unlikely to be caused by any significant heart or lung abnormalities.

What can cause atypical chest pain?

One of the most frequent causes relates to the muscles and cartilage of the chest wall. In fact, throughout our daily life we often cause subtle trauma to the chest during periods of strenuous exertion or when lifting a heavy object, for example. Most of the time, we do not even remember when it happened, despite it having caused localised chest muscle sprain, strain or bruising. Of course, although such symptoms are unlikely to point to anything major, if they persist or you are concerned about them it is best to discuss these with a specialist.

What if these pains keep coming back? 

There is a small chance that these symptoms may relate to underlying health issues despite being atypical. A heart check-up would certainly be helpful when symptoms persist, to ensure that a patient’s cardiovascular health is in good order especially in those with a history of high cholesterol, current or previous smoking, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease. Where indicated, we will arrange further tests (and onward referral where appropriate) to assess whether these symptoms are the result of other underlying conditions such as lung disease, gastrointestinal disease  or chest wall injury.

At the Cambridge Cardiology Clinic, a consultation with one of our cardiology consultants can help you go through your symptoms and guide further investigations, and treatment, if required.

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