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Date of last update: 10/19/2017.

Forum Name: Chest symptoms

Question: Female, 26, random sharp chest pain since childhood

 aimorai - Tue Oct 27, 2009 10:29 am

Hello there,

I am a healthy 26-year old female. Ever since I was about 11 or so, I have experienced random, sharp chest pains that seem to come from the left side of my chest -- I'd describe them as underneath my left breast. They are stabbing pains that get worse every time I breathe in. These pains can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to about a minute, and they seem to occur randomly -- when I'm sitting down, laying down, vigorously exercising, etc. There doesn't seem to really be a rhyme or a reason to them. Normally, the deeper I breathe in, the worse they get. Sometimes I'll get three in a day, sometimes I'll go for months without experiencing the pains. The first experience was the worst and lasted for about 10 minutes -- none have been nearly as bad since that one. At first I would just try to breathe shallowly until they passed -- the pains are enough where they stop me in my tracks and I'll just focus on breathing. When I was about 17, I experienced what I'd call "a bad one" in the middle of mini-golfing and I happened to sneeze. Breathing in deeply in order to sneeze caused what I'd describe as a 'tearing' sensation in the same spot as the pain, but the pain ceased immediately. Ever since then, I try to force myself to sneeze when I get these pains if they last for more than a few seconds. There's always that tearing sensation and then the pain immediately stops.

I've asked my general practitioner about these pains and she could find no cause for them -- my heart and lung functions seem very normal. I've tried to research these sorts of pains on my own and I always come up with a variety of possible diagnoses. Any ideas? Need any more information? Thanks very much!
 John Kenyon, CNA - Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:45 am

User avatar Hi -- Your complaint is so common among teens and young adults I was prepared to tell you it's almost normal although it could be costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilege between the ribs). However, the long duration of this complaint, the pleuritic pain (on breathing) and especially your description of the mini-golf sneeze experience, two more concrete (though not especially serious) causes come to mind. The difference is the first problem, musculosketal, responds well to over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds such as ibuprofin and naproxyn, but the other two things are a little more complex. The "tearing" sensation and subsequent relief of symptoms strongly suggests either an adhesion (tissue of the pleura, the protective lining of the lung, sticking to the chest wall because of some random inflammation in the past) or possible even (and much less likely) spontaneous pneumothorax, in which little bullae, bubble-like things on the lung, burst. This often is accompanied by the same symptoms you've been having but also often some shortness of breath. I'd lean more toward an adhesion or just plain chronic anatomic anomaly where something literally gets "stuck" and then is released by some strong inner pressure as from a sneeze.

None of these possible problems is serious, but you may want to talk to an internist about it and see if it could be resolved without too much fuss or if it's fine just to put up with it. If it's an anatomic anomaly you may well have to put up with it, and you've done a good job of that so far. If it's an adhesion there are ways of dealing with those, and the pneumothorax problem is pretty unlikely. There is also the possibility of chronic costochondritis, and this would respond to the OTC pain meds, so that may be worth a trial. It's pretty near impossible to diagnose most problems at a distance, some moreso than others, but I hope I've at least been able to give you some helpful suggestions as to why this might be happening. Clearly after all this time it's not a serious problem, the only issue is just how aggravating it is for you.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck to you and please follow up with us here as needed.
 tink24 - Fri Mar 05, 2010 7:57 am

I posted an almost exact same problem. I am a female, same age, same symptoms. You describe a tearing sensation once you sneeze and I get a "Bubble-that-finally-Bursts" sensation which could be much the same. I don't sneeze, I just force myself to take a deeper breath which causes the "bubble to pop" and I gain instant relief. I am curious if you have any history of asthma, allergies, or being high strung. That is what I thought might be causing the symptoms.
 aprilgyure - Mon Jun 28, 2010 12:43 pm

I have experienced the same symptoms as you, starting when I was 12 years old. I went through a battery of tests(holter monitor, stress test, EKG, etc.), only to discover that I have a heart murmur which could not possibly be the cause of such pains. I am presently 31 years old and still experience the random tearing pains. They have increased in length and intensity as the years have gone by but I am unable presently to go through the tests again, as it took my mother almost 10 years to pay those bills off and I currently am uninsured. I agree that forcing to take a sharp breath deeply in usually, but not always, relieves the discomfort. A few years ago I was referred to a cardiologist by my general doctor due to my unusually slow weak heartbeat. I, again, didn't follow through due to financial reasons. I truly want to feel better and wish to no longer experience this malady. I am hoping that I am able to get checked out and receive treatment if needed as soon as fiscally possible. I used to suffer asthma-from early childhood up to about 2 years ago-then it mysteriously went away. I also have vaso-vagal response attacks where I faint and breathing and heartbeat stop for a period, along with bladder/other release. I have suffered 3 different attacks-the first on when I was 12, right before these chest pains began. The other two in my early 20's.

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