Here’s what a cardiologist says about that sudden chest pain that lasts only seconds: angina or is this somehow related to your heart?

Any kind of pain or ache in the heart area (“beneath” the breasts or “behind” the breastbone) can be frightening.

Angina is chest pain that results from a shortage of blood flow in the heart, which means an insufficient oxygen supply — and hence, pain.

“A flicker of chest pain, especially if it happens at rest, is not likely to be angina,” says Donna P. Denier, MD, of The Cardiology Center with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. 

“Anginal chest pain is related to a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle. 

“It usually occurs when the demand for oxygen-rich blood to the heart is greater than the supply.

“This type of chest pain typically occurs when a person is performing some type of physical activity or is under extreme emotional stress.

“The pain will come on when the demand on the heart is present and will go away when the activity is stopped.”

Dr. Denier points out that if someone who has angina over-exerts themselves, thus evoking the pain in the chest, they may immediately cease the offending activity, causing the pain to promptly go away — so in that case, the angina was brief.

“Most brief chest pains are not angina but other causes such as gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal pains. All chest pains should be reported to your doctor.”

Can angina last for five seconds?

“Five seconds of chest pain, especially if it happens randomly or at rest, is not likely to be angina,” says Dr. Denier. She says the same goes for 10 seconds: not likely to be.

Possible causes of chest pain that comes on suddenly and lasts only seconds:

  • Motility of fecal matter through the large colon
  • Skeletal muscle spasm
  • Nerve pain caused by muscles stressed from a recent weight workout
  • Acid reflux
  • Esophageal spasm

 What about unstable angina? Can that last only seconds?

“No, unstable angina is not likely to last for only seconds. Pain that is very brief like that is not likely to be caused by the heart.”

donna denier, md

Dr. Denier has been practicing medicine for over 15 years and is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine – Cardiovascular Disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 



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