There’s actually quite a few causes of sudden sharp pain on the left side of one’s chest, ranging from heart problems to serious lung conditions to harmless muscle strains.
Causes of Sharp Chest Pain on the Left Side
“The ‘type’ of pain or the location of the pain in the chest area doesn’t necessarily rule out heart-related issues,” says Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan, MD, a cardiologist at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI.
“Although the heart is placed slightly to the left of the midline in the chest, heart-related discomfort can be located anywhere above the diaphragm.”
Acute pericarditis is one such cause of sharp pain on the left side of the chest.
This presents most commonly with a sharp stabbing pain in the chest, behind the breastbone or in the left side of one’s chest.
However, in some patients, sometimes the discomfort is dull or aching rather than sharp and stabbing.
What is pericarditis?
The pericardium is a sac-like membrane; it surrounds the heart. When this membrane becomes irritated or swollen, it’s pericarditis.
Sharp chest pain is not typically due to coronary artery blockages, but “not typically” doesn’t mean it can’t ever be, either.
Pain Worse with Movement
If this is the case, it rarely means coronary artery disease.
Blood Clot in a Lung
This has the potential to cause a sharp pain.
Does your left side sharp chest pain fluctuate with movement?
Dr. Laman says that this “most commonly indicates that the ribs, muscles, cartilage [costochondritis] or lungs [e.g., pneumonia, pleuritis] are involved.”
Signs that Left Side Sharp Chest Pain Is not a Heart Blockage
• Pain increases with inhalation
• Duration is a few seconds
• Gets worse when you press on your chest
• Movement aggravates it
How likely is left sided sharp chest pain to be a heart attack?
Harvard Health Publications says that “pain clearly on one side of the body than the other” is “less likely to be a heart attack.”
However, a heart attack CAN cause pain on the left side—but it’s usually not sharp, piercing or stabbing.
Additional Causes of Sharp Pain on the Left Side of the Chest Only
• Intercostal neuralgia (damage to nerves that run between the ribs)
• Heartburn/acid reflux
• Recent pressure against the breast
About that last point, that has happened to me. A person may confuse a pain that originates in the breast with one that’s more “chesty,” so I thought I’d mention it.
I had been leaning forward and massaging my left elbow (golfer’s elbow) with my right hand.
My right arm kept pressing against the right side of my right breast.
A few hours later I started getting shooting, stabbing pains there. Over time I noticed that when this occurred, I had massaged my elbow a few hours prior.
I then began massaging my elbow in a different sitting position, making sure my right arm was not contacting my breast. The sharp right “chest” pain never returned.
So if this kind of pressure is occurring to your left breast (which can also happen if you sleep on it wrong), then it just could trigger a sharp pain that seems to be coming from your chest.
My doctor told me that this phenomenon is the result of breast tissue being very sensitive, and it’s nothing to worry about.
Dr. Chinnaiyan has authored and co-authored 100+ manuscripts and abstracts. She has served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association of Southeast Michigan.
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/Twinsterphoto