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 percent of people who go to the emergency room because of chest pain are actually facing a life-threatening condition.

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.

Get urgent medical care if you have severe, sudden pain or any other kind of chest pain. Go to the emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

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 15 million people in the United States have heartburn symptoms every day. You may also have:

  • stomach discomfort
  • a bubble or blockage sensation in the chest
  • burning or pain at the back of the throat
  • bitter taste at the back of the mouth or throat
  • burping

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. Characteristics of PCS include pain that:

  • is sharp and stabbing in the chest lasting 30 seconds to 3 minutes
  • is made worse by breathing in
  • goes away quickly and leaves no lasting symptoms
  • typically occurs at rest or when changing posture
  • may come on during periods of stress or anxiety

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 a 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:

  • fibromyalgia
  • broken or bruised ribs
  • ostochondritis, or inflammation in the rib cartilage
  • costochondritis, or inflammation or an infection between the ribs and breast bone

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. These include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fast or “pounding” heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hand and feet numbness
  • fainting

6. Heart issues

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

The pain will normally last for several minutes or more. 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, including:

  • sweating
  • nausea
  • pain that spreads to the neck or jaw
  • pain that spreads the shoulders, arms or back
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • shortness of breath
  • fast or “pounding” heartbeat
  • fatigue

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.

Other heart-related causes of chest pain include:

  • Angina. This kind of chest pain happens when blood flow to the heart muscles is blocked. It can be triggered by physical exertion or emotional stress.
  • Pericarditis. This is an infection or inflammation of the lining around the heart. It can happen after a throat infection or a cold. Pericarditis can cause a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache. You may also have a fever.
  • Myocarditis. This is inflammation of the heart muscle. It can affect the heart’s muscles and the electrical system that controls heart beats.
  • Cardiomyopathy. This heart muscle disease makes the heart weaker and can cause pain.
  • Dissection. This emergency condition happens when the aorta splits. It causes severe chest and back pain.

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

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

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.