What are the odds that sudden brief chest pains mean a pending heart attack or other heart problem like angina?

“Very brief chest pain is often non-cardiac, although this complaint requires an appropriate workup for proper evaluation,” says Lance S. Burns, MD, emergency medicine specialist, of Legacy ER & Urgent Care, Frisco East location.

A doctor wants to tell you that based on test results, your sudden brief chest pains are NOT being caused by a heart problem, rather than tell you this simply because the brief nature is not typical for pending heart attack or blocked arteries.

Dr. Burns continues, “Brief chest pain is often either chest wall or pulmonary in etiology, usually eluding a definitive diagnosis.

“The feeling of a ‘catch’ or sharp pain in the chest is very common and typically benign. The longer the pain lasts, the higher the possibility that there is a more concerning underlying etiology.

“Of note, pleurisy is a lay term describing sharp chest pain, which is worse with inspiration [inhaling] or movement.

“It is important to rule out potential life threatening diagnosis such as pulmonary embolus, aortic aneurysm, collapsed lung (pneumothorax), cardiac tamponade [collection of fluid] or coronary insufficiency.”

Sudden pain in the chest of very short duration can also be nerve or muscle/soft tissue related, stemming from a hard workout involving muscles and soft tissue in that region.

Make a note of when any sharp short chest pains occur. Is there a pattern? Are they usually the day after your chest workout or hardcore chin-up routine?

(Yes, the hanging and then pulling up causes stretching and isometric stress, respectively, on the chest muscles.) Muscle spasms can be brief and hurt quite a bit.

A ruptured or dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm typically causes a ripping, excruciating chest pain —and it’s not brief, but it’s of sudden-onset. It’s life threatening and requires immediate medical intervention.

However, whenever anyone presents to the ER with chest pain, physicians will move fast to rule out the most serious possible causes.

Dr. Burns has over 30 years of experience, and he specializes in emergency medicine as well as family medicine. For more info: Legacy ER & Urgent Care.
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.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Aaron Amat