Stabbing Chest Pains: When to Worry

In the majority of cases, these sharp pains are caused by tense muscles, as well as anxiety or excessive worry.  Breathe with the diaphragm to relax.
Stabbing Chest Pains: When to Worry
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 09 October, 2022

You have sharp chest pains when breathing. It feels like thousands of needles pricking your chest. Your breathing is restricted. What causes it? Is it a sign of something more serious? First, calm down. Keep track of the pain and how it changes. The majority of the time, stress or anxiety are the cause of these alarming pains. We’ll tell you more in this article.

Sharp, stabbing chest pains!

Woman with clay heart

Many describe feeling tiny stabbing pains, like direct jabs to the heart that come on suddenly and restrict breathing. We should tell you that this is a relatively common phenomenon that we’ve all experienced at some point. Still, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it should be ignored. When experiencing one of these attacks, doctors recommend following these guidelines:
  • Sit comfortably and try your best to remain calm.
  • Remember that it will likely pass within a few moments.
  • Relax and try to breathe calmly and slowly, exhaling through the mouth.
  • Lastly, take your pulse, if you can.  If you notice it’s high and accompanied with rapid breathing and pain extending into the neck or arms, seek medical assistance immediately. But, to reiterate, in almost 70% of cases the cause of these attacks can be attributed to anxiety or stress.

Cause 1: Anxiety or Stress

Woman having anxiety attack

Anxiety and stress are the number one causes of this physical reaction. However, don’t ignore it, because stabbing chest pains can also be a sign of something more serious.  It might surprise you, but symptoms of stress or anxiety do not always occur during the stressful situation. It’s possible to work in a stress and anxiety filled environment, perform well throughout the day, then experience anxiety and stress once you leave.

When you get home, you might get a headache or begin to feel dizzy. Even if it fades, the symptoms might reappear the next morning as you’re getting dressed for work.

Experts report that the highest number of heart attacks and other cardiac problems occur during the holidays and weekends. We’re supposed to be relaxing, but the body is incapable of doing so. When the level of cortisol in the body is too high, symptoms like stabbing chest pains begin to appear.

They can happen when you’re sitting down to dinner, watching TV, or talking on the phone. All of a sudden, you feel like you can’t breathe. Check out some of the most common causes of stabbing chest pain:

  • Tense muscles. The tension becomes so great that it suddenly we’re unable to breathe properly.
  • Vegetative hyperactivity (dizziness, rapid heart beat, and sweating. Classic tachypnea is characterized by rapid, intense breathing that can lead to stabbing pains in the chest).

What can you do to alleviate the symptoms?

First, relax, and begin breathing from the diaphragm.  This allows the lungs to completely fill with air. How can you do this? Follow these steps:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Place one hand on your abdomen, just above the navel.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nostrils. Notice the movement of your hand and your belly rising.
  • Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
  • Purse your lips, like you’re about to blow out a candle.
  • Exhale (slowly blowing) for four seconds.

Cause 2:  A Cardiac Problem

Chest pains
There are several risk factors to be aware of:
  • Usually the occurrence of cardiac problems rises between the ages of 50 and 55.
  • Previous symptoms: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of cardiac ailments.

The first thing to do when you feel jabbing chest pains is sit down. Follow these guidelines:

  • Calm down, and try to use the breathing pattern described above.
  • How is your pulse? Is it fast? Irregularly alternating between beating fast, then slow?
  • If the pain doesn’t stop after 5 minutes, or intensifies, seek medical attention.
  • Also seek medical attention immediately if the pain extends to your neck, jaw or arms.
  • Finally, if you notice pain accompanied with a strong tightness in the chest that restricts breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately.

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It’s essential to make sure the discomfort does not become too severe or lead to the symptoms described above. You can reassure yourself that it’s most likely anxiety, but you should still pay attention to what’s going on.  Take care of yourself – you deserve it!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.