If you have ever experienced a sharp and sudden pain in the chest, it may have been a condition called precordial catch syndrome (PCS). The good news is that unlike a heart attack, it is not harmful or even life-threatening.
Unlike a heart attack, the pain does not radiate or "spread" to other areas of the body. And, again dissimilar from a heart attack, PCS won't cause other symptoms – such as drenching or vomiting, for example. Instead, the pain is localized to an area to the front or side of the chest usually no bigger than one to two fingertips wide. Hence the name "precordial", meaning "in front of the heart".
Breathing can make the pain more intense and some people find shallow breaths can help blunt symptoms. Others say one deep inhalation can provoke a “popping sensation” that resolves the issue, "fixing" things.
PCS disappears just as quickly and suddenly as it arises, with sessions usually lasting between 30 seconds and three minutes. There are no other symptoms and there are no lasting signs. But while it is very, very rarely harmful and goes away of its own accord, it may trigger anxiety and repetitive shallow breathing can cause a person to feel dizzy and light-headed.
The sensation, also called a Texidor's Twitch, may (mistakenly) be confused for a heart attack, but it is, in fact, an extremely common condition that tends to occur during adolescence and early adulthood. It has also been reported in children as young as six and older adults.
So, what exactly is causing the pain? The truth is we don't know precisely what sparks an attack, but most experts think the pain is caused by the irritation or pinching of nerves in the chest cavity's inner lining (the pleura). It is not, however, caused by damage to the heart or lungs.
While it is ultimately benign provided there is no underlying heart condition (something a healthcare practitioner should be able to rule out), it can be extremely uncomfortable. Frustratingly, there isn't a guaranteed cure or a treatment as of now, but there are certain situations that may prompt an attack – and can be avoided. PCS usually occurs at rest (never while sleeping) and often when the person is slouched or changes their posture abruptly. So the risk of an attack may be reduced at least somewhat by sitting up straight – no doubt music to the ears of parents and teachers everywhere.
Fortunately, just like braces and teenage acne, it is something most people grow out of. Episodes are less frequent as you get older and usually stop completely by the time we reach our early to mid-twenties.