Quick Sharp Pains

Sometimes I get quick sharp pains that shoot from my side or underarm into/near my breast area. What is that and is it a symptom of something more serious?

Anytime we have a pain that we can’t explain, it causes us to be nervous naturally, but pain can have many different meanings. Sometimes a muscle has been overworked, a nerve stretched or too much of a good meal that causes “gas trapping. These symptoms are isolated, occasional, and go away quickly with rest, over-the-counter medications or time. They are most likely not serious.

Muscles can be easily injured by over-exercising, or overdoing activities we consider part of our daily routine like lifting small children, going up and down stairs, carrying heavy groceries, rearranging furniture, lengthy housework, or moving that involves heavy packing/lifting.

Of course, anytime we have any problems associated with the breast or the breast area, we think of breast cancer, but it rarely presents with pain. However, if there are concerns, have a breast exam by your health provider. Breast cancer occurs usually in an older age group and may have other associated symptoms including a palpable breast mass (especially with retraction of the skin over the mass) and nipple discharge. But not necessarily.

If there are other symptoms associated with your pain, this may point to more serious problems and the possible need for a medical evaluation. This investigation may involve the muscles, heart, digestive system, respiratory system or breast.

Listed below are some common symptoms associated with these areas that may need a medical evaluation, especially if they have not responded to 1-2 days of over the counter medications.

Muscles: Local or generalized aches, pains, weakness, tiredness, soreness, back/leg discomfort.

Heart: Heavy chest pain, along with left sided jaw, arm back, or neck pain, shortness of breath and/or profuse sweating and rapid/irregular heart rate.

Especially in an older person or anyone with a history of heart disease, you may need to go to the emergency room to rule out a heart attack or heart-related condition.

Gastrointestinal/Digestive System: Nausea, vomiting, constipation/diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss; symptoms may be related to eating, especially fried or spicy foods and heavy meals.

Respiratory System: Fever, chills, shortness of breath, breathing difficulty, coughs especially with productive flim or wheezing.

Other medical conditions include:

Fibrocystic Breast Disease: In this condition, pain in the breast is usually cyclic and related to our menstrual cycle. It can be sharp, shooting or generalized tenderness. This is because of changes in the tissues of the breast as we make our female hormones (estrogen) and not really a disease state. Breast may feel dense, irregular or lumpy. Avoiding caffine products (caffinated coffee/tea, sodas and chocholates), restricting dietary fat to approximately 25% and wearing a well-fitting bra for effective breast support may help.

Precordial Catch Syndrome: This is a sudden, piercing pain in your chest, usually under your rib on the left side or the left nipple. You try not to breathe because it is painful, but eventually you take a deep breath. It feels then like something is going to “burst”, and when it does, the pain is gone. This last 30 seconds to a minute. The cause is unknown.

Anxiety/Stress: Chest pains that can be sharp or dull, and extend into the neck, shoulders and stomach, may be symptoms related to stress and/or anxiety. The pains may come and go or sometimes just feel like “twinges”. Other symptoms can include clamminess, dizziness and feeling your heart racing. Relaxation techniques like massages, whirlpool/Jacuzzi, quiet walks, meditation, breathing techniques, reading a good book, and down time for you may relieve these symptoms.

GERD/Acid reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, happens when stomach contents leak back into the lower esophagus (food tube), because the valve connecting these two areas does not close properly. This food content from the stomach is acidy and causes a “burning sensation”. You may have heartburn or taste food that has returned to the back of your mouth. Some people complain of a dry cough, bad breath, and hoarseness in the morning, or trouble swallowing. Avoid fatty/spicy/fried foods, caffeine (caffeinated coffee/tea and chocolates), mint flavoring, citrus fruits, tomatoes-based foods, alcohol and smoking. Also avoid food 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Costalchondritis: Irritation or inflammation of the cartilage that cushions the area between your ribs and sternum. Pain in the chest area comes on suddenly. This can come from straining the chest muscles like shoveling snow, lifting heavy packages or hacking/ persistent cough.

The symptoms you describe seem to be related to stress, muscle or “gas trapping”, especially if they are occasional and go away with no treatment or minimal medications. However, if you have other symptoms or are concerned, see your health provider.