What is precordial catch syndrome?

Precordial catch syndrome is chest pain that occurs when nerves in the front of the chest are squeezed or aggravated.

It’s not a medical emergency and usually causes no harm. It most commonly affects children and adolescents.

What are the symptoms of precordial catch syndrome?

Typically, the pain associated with precordial catch syndrome only lasts a few minutes at most. It tends to come on suddenly, often when your child is at rest. The discomfort is usually described as a sharp, stabbing pain. The pain tends to be localized in a very specific part of the chest — usually below the left nipple — and may feel worse if the child is taking deep breaths.

Pain from precordial catch syndrome often disappears just as suddenly as it develops, and it usually only lasts for a short amount of time. There are no other symptoms or complications.

What causes precordial catch syndrome?

It’s not always obvious what triggers precordial catch syndrome, but it’s not caused by a heart or lung problem.

Some doctors think the pain is probably due to irritation of the nerves in the lining of the lung, also known as the pleura. However, pain from the ribs or cartilage in the chest wall may also be to blame.

The nerves could be irritated by anything from poor posture to an injury, such as a blow to the chest. A growth spurt could even trigger some pain in the chest.

How is precordial catch syndrome diagnosed?

Any time you or your child has unexplained chest pain, see a doctor, even if it’s just to rule out a heart or lung emergency.

Call 911 if any type of chest pain is also accompanied by:

  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • severe headache
  • shortness of breath

It could be a heart attack or another heart-related crisis.

If your child’s chest pain is caused by precordial catch syndrome, the doctor will be able to rule out a heart or lung problem pretty quickly. The doctor will get a medical history of your child and then get a good understanding of the symptoms. Be prepared to explain:

  • when symptoms began
  • how long the pain lasted
  • how the pain felt
  • what, if any, other symptoms were felt
  • how often these symptoms occur

Aside from listening to the heart and lungs and checking the blood pressure and pulse, there may be no other tests or screenings involved.

If the doctor thinks the heart may be the problem, and not precordial catch syndrome, your child may require additional testing.

Otherwise no further diagnostic work is needed in most cases. If your doctor diagnoses the condition as precordial catch syndrome, but still orders additional testing, ask why.

You may want to get a second opinion to avoid unnecessary testing. Likewise, if you believe your child’s problem is more serious than precordial catch syndrome, and you’re concerned your doctor may have missed something, don’t hesitate to get another medical opinion.

Can precordial catch syndrome cause complications?

While precordial catch syndrome doesn’t lead to other health conditions, it can produce anxiety in a young person and a parent. If you experience chest pains periodically, it’s best to discuss it with a doctor. This may provide some peace of mind or help diagnose a different problem if it turns out the pains aren’t caused by precordial catch syndrome.

How is precordial catch syndrome treated?

If the diagnosis is precordial catch syndrome, no specific treatment is needed. Your doctor may recommend a nonprescription pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Motrin). Sometimes slow, gentle breaths can help the pain disappear. However, in some cases, a deep breath or two may get rid of the pain, though those breaths may hurt for a moment.

Because poor posture may trigger precordial catch syndrome, sitting up taller may help prevent future episodes. If you notice your child hunched over while sitting, try to get them in the habit of sitting and standing straighter with shoulders back.

What is the outlook for precordial catch syndrome?

Precordial catch syndrome tends to affect children and teens only. Most people outgrow it by their 20s. Painful episodes should become less frequent and less intense as time goes on. While it may be uncomfortable, precordial catch syndrome is harmless and does not demand any specific treatment.

If the nature of the pain changes or you develop other symptoms, talk to your doctor.