Sudden sharp pain in the chest that goes away quickly can happen for a number of reasons. While chest pain could signify something serious like a heart attack, it could also occur from less life threatening causes.

There are different kinds of chest pain. In fact, according to one 2016 study, only about 6% of people who go to the emergency room because of chest pain are actually facing a life threatening condition.

You can experience different types of chest pain. It may be dull or sharp, sudden or chronic, and it may even feel like burning. Sometimes the pain will extend beyond the area of the chest. How you experience it depends mostly on the cause.

Get urgent medical care if you have severe, sudden pain. Go to the emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency services immediately. For milder or duller pain, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor.

You will usually experience other symptoms along with the pain that can help the doctor diagnose the cause, so it’s important to give them a full description of what you’re feeling.

Sudden, sharp chest pain lasts for less than a few seconds. Some people might describe it as an electric shock or a stabbing pain. It lasts for an instant, and then it’s gone.

Here are some common causes of this type of chest pain.

1. Heartburn/GERD

Heartburn or acid reflux is also called indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when stomach acid splashes up from your stomach. This can cause a sudden pain or burning feeling in the chest.

Heartburn is a common cause of chest pain. Almost 20% of people in the United States have heartburn symptoms every day.

2. Precordial catch syndrome

Precordial catch syndrome (PCS) is a non-serious condition that occurs mostly in children and young adults but can also happen in adulthood. It’s thought to be aggravated by either a pinched nerve in the chest or a muscle spasm.

No treatment is necessary for this, and there are no negative health effects.

3. Muscle strain or bone pain

Muscle or bone problems can cause sudden, sharp chest pain. Your ribs and the muscles between them can get injured or bruised by working out, carrying something heavy, or in a fall. You can also sprain a muscle in your chest wall.

Chest muscle or bone strain can lead to sudden, sharp pain in your chest. This is especially common if the muscle or bone pinches a nerve. Damage to chest wall muscles and bones can be caused by broken ribs or certain diseases affecting the bones, such as costochondritis.

4. Lung problems

Lung and breathing problems can cause sudden, sharp chest pain. Some lung problems can be serious. See your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms:

  • chest pain that worsens if you take a deep breath
  • chest pain that worsens if you cough

Lung conditions that can cause chest pain include:

5. Anxiety and panic attacks

Severe anxiety and panic attacks can cause sudden, sharp chest pain. This mental health condition can happen for no reason at all. Some people may have a panic attack after a stressful or emotional event.

Other symptoms of a panic attack are also very similar to a heart attack.

Learn to tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack.

6. Heart issues

Most people think of a heart attack when they have chest pain. Heart attacks typically cause dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest. They may also cause a burning pain in the chest.

Most heart attacks cause a dull, crushing pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain typically lasts longer than a few minutes. It might also go away and then happen again.

Additionally, chest pain from a heart attack is usually diffuse. This means that it is difficult to pinpoint. The chest pain may spread from the center or all over the chest.

Get emergency medical treatment if you have any symptoms of a heart attack.

Other heart conditions can also trigger chest pain. They may be more likely to cause sudden, sharp chest pain than a heart attack. Any condition that affects the heart can be serious and needs medical attention. Examples include angina or myocarditis.

Other causes of sudden, sharp chest pain include digestive disorders and viral infections like:

The most urgent and serious cause of chest pain is heart attack. The following chart can help you differentiate between pain caused by heart attack compared to other causes.

The chart below shows typical symptoms of heart disease. Some people may experience atypical symptoms not included in this list.

Heart attackOther causes
PainDull, squeezing, or crushing pressure Sharp or burning pain
Pain locationDiffuse, spread out Localized can be pinpointed
Pain durationSeveral minutesMomentary, less than a few seconds
ExercisePain worsensPain improves

Can you have chest pain without heart attack?

Yes. Many conditions can cause chest pain, including:

  • heartburn/GERD
  • precordial catch syndrome
  • muscle strain or bone pain
  • lung problems
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • other heart conditions
  • digestive disorders
  • shingles
  • muscles spasms
  • gladder bladder disorders
  • pancreas conditions

What are three common causes of chest pain?

There are many possible causes of chest pain. Three common causes include heartburn or GERD, precordial catch syndrome, and gallbladder or pancreatic conditions.

What are three warning signs of a heart attack in females?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the signs and symptoms of heart attack may be the same in males or females and include chest pain; shortness of breath; jaw, neck, back, arm, or shoulder pain; nausea, light-headedness, or unusual fatigue.

What causes a quick sharp pain in the chest?

One common cause of sharp pain in the chest that lasts for just a few seconds may be precordial catch syndrome.

What causes chest pain if an EKG is normal?

There are many non-cardiac conditions that may cause chest pain, including:

  • heartburn/GERD
  • muscle strain
  • lung problems
  • anxiety
  • digestive disorders
  • shingles
  • gladder bladder or pancreatic disorders

What is a sharp pain in the chest that is not a heart attack?

Many things may cause chest pain besides a heart attack, including other heart conditions, such as angina or pericarditis, a panic attack, a hernia, acid reflux, cholecystitis, a collapsed lung, a blood clot in the lung, or pneumonia.

Because the causes of sharp pain in the chest are so varied, only a doctor can diagnose you properly. If you are experiencing chest pain, see a doctor.

Why do I get random stabbing pains?

Many things may cause random stabbing pains. Depending on how long it lasts, the cause could be an injury. If you are experiencing random stabbing pains in your chest, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional.

Most causes of sudden, sharp chest pain are not caused by a heart attack. However, some other causes of chest pain can be serious. If you have chest pain or any other symptoms of a heart condition, get immediate medical attention.

A doctor can find out what is causing your chest pain. You may need a chest X-ray or scan and a blood test. An ECG test that looks at your heartbeat can check your heart health.

Only a small percentage of people with chest pain are actually having a heart attack. However, it is always better to have a doctor confirm the cause of your sudden, sharp chest pain.