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My experience of precordial catch syndrome

posted Nov 10, 2010 13:22:51 by gardenplant
I first noticed this condition when I was 15, although I had no idea what it was at the time. The way to describe it would be that my heart felt like an empty crisp (chips if you're American) packet resting against a shard of broken glass thinking it was about to tear at anytime. I'm now 30 and only now is the frequency of the "catches" beginning to ease up, much in line with the notion that it's an adolescent condition.

I believe Precordial catch syndrome is linked to stress. I have found that alcohol has helped relieve the severity of the attacks when it has come on for me. Please note I in no way condone alcohol as the solution, only that it has helped ME take my mind off and temporarily calmed me down at the time of the attacks. You may think that alcohol works because it thins your blood and so there's easier blood circulation and that the condition could be linked to this as has been described that people usually have an attack at times when they are inactive, but I can say that in my experience I have experienced it while running, walking, cycling e.t.c., and that also going back to the blood thinner point I have tried aspirin with no effect or relief.

Again I think this condition is more a psychological one although in the end it results in a physical outcome.

For example take Anorexia. People who suffer from this believe they are fat so psychologically they take action to stop eating. It has started out as a mental disorder but pretty soon it will result in a physical one as their stomachs shrink and their muscles waste away. I think the same bears fruit in Precordial catch syndrome that growing up stressed and tense has tightened precordial muscles and thus every now and then they temporarily snag or give the heart a hard time to efficiently pump resulting in the sharp pain.

I would be interested to hear your stories, theories, symptoms and relief methods and maybe together we can work to solve the mystery behind this condition.

Finally, I set up this forum as this website gets 1000 unique visitors a month so do not worry if you think that it's only you and me and a hand full of others that has this condition.
[Last edited Nov 10, 2010 13:43:54]
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57 replies
brittanyyca said Mar 13, 2013 20:12:24
Hi GardenPlant,

I have always had this certain pain in my chest and my back where I feel someone is just poking and stabbing me. I have been dealing with it since I was about 12 and now I am 16. When I had complained about it to my mother one day and she saw how bad it was she finally decided it was about time to see what this finally was, this was about a month or two ago. When i went to the hospital,is when i learned i had PCS. Although what sucked is after finding out what it is they told me it was Not curable. this Was really hard to hear because for me my episodes sometimes get really bad. Like for example one day in school i was doing work and then i felt a sharp pain. i had ignored it and kept conversing with my friends until it happened again and kept on to a point where i had to be carried out of class to be carried out of school an hour later. My parents didn't know what to do and i didn't want to go to the hospital, so i tried to sleep it off. When i awoke i thought i was fine, i had felt fine, until 5 minutes later where it started hurting me again. i ended up just going back to sleep, forcing myself to because it was the only way to avoid the pain. I find it hard to believe the only thing that can help me is laying in a beetle position and forcing myself to sleep. If that doesn't help i have to force myself to take the deep breaths until it passes and sometimes for me it can last all day or happen randomly yet frequently in a day. I get PCS at least once a month. It starts small for 10 seconds and then a couple days after it turns to minutes and and sometimes it can be a big episode that ranges from a couple hrs to a day and a half.
Halee said Apr 23, 2013 19:42:44
Hi gardenplant,
My name is Halee and I am 14 years old. Within the last few months I have had a racing heartbeat even when I wasn't doing anything! So after a while of dealing with it by myself, I told my parents who took me to a doctor to see what was wrong. At first all they knew was that it raced inconsistently and after a month or so I was given a heart monitor to wear for a month. Also I was prevented from participating in gym and in my band class since I play clarinet. I was also restricted from drinking soda and doing any activities that might make my heart race. Orginally my doctor tried to get me an appointment with a cardiologist but it wasn't until August of this year. So she ordered the heart monitor and was to wear it for one month and see what showed up. The results were not so great. I had readings of between 130-140bpm. This is very unusual for a teenage girl. My doctor was curious and fought to get my appointment moved up and finally I had an appointment for the 22nd of April. I went to the cardiologist and was talked to and asked questions about what i felt. Because alongside the racing heart beat I had all of the symptoms of PCS. So I was given an Echocardiogram and an EKG (electrocardiogram) to get some data. Soon after the doctor came in and bluntly told me that I had Precordial Catch Syndrome and that while there is no cure and treatment, I would just have to deal and go about life normaly and try to find and prevent the triggers. I am relieved to know that this is basically harmless and it wasn't just in my head. My school nurse would say that only I could decribe how I felt and that is true. But she was also convinced that nothing was wrong and I was over reacting and exaggerating. Now I can say that there is something going on and I wasn't just imagining it. Along with this I have been the victim of migraines. I get them almost daily and I can barely do my work. Also I have been having problems with my stomach. Luckily this is the only major problem. Hopefully I will be put on beta blockers to prevent the migraines and to regulate my heart beat.
[Last edited Apr 23, 2013 19:45:19]
Elizabeth said Apr 29, 2013 13:21:49
RELIEF at finding this website! I am 43 and have just had about my 1000th "heart attack". It was so bad this time I genuinely thought I WAS having a heart attack and thought would just have YET another look on internet and found this site at last! Am so relieved to read of all of you with EXACTLY the symptoms I've always had. I identify with you! Quick synopsis of me:

Female, 43, UK

Had sharp heart pains ever since I can remember (over 35 years)

Been diagnosed by GPs over the years with:
aged 8 - growing pains
aged 10 - indigestion
aged 18 - tachycardia / arrythymia - given an ECG (no findings) and put on betablockers for a year (cant remember if this worked)
aged 25 - muscle pain

Definitely no pattern to the time of pains (happens when asleep/running/ sitting / housework) nor linked to stress

No pattern as to whether I will get 2 a 3 a day, or 2 or 3 a year (once went 2 years without having one)

Always happen in same place just left on my chest

No history in family of it, although I did have a heart murmur when I was born, and my Dad's just had a heart attack.

Not found a cure, I just curl up and breathe shallowly and rub it hard in between my ribs (will try popping exercise next time!)

Last from 5 seconds to about 30 mins (but did have 2.5 hour one aged 20). Usually about 5 mins though.

Sometimes, they dont go away completely but are just dull in background for an hour or so.

After reading all your comments, I most liken the description to having a severe "stitch" there which someone mentioned.

Thank you for sharing all of your stories - good luck everyone!! xx
ChristineStoddard said May 07, 2013 04:31:00
I am so happy to find this site. I am 65 and have just started having this painful experience. Since I have severe asthma I thought it must be related to this. It just started a few days ago and is most severe when I try and sleep on my left side. My life is far from sedentary but I do spend a great deal of time commuting on airplanes. In fact my first episode was a day after my 7 hr commute on a plane. I tried taking tylenol but it did nothing. Reading some of the above I think stress could definitely play a role but I will wait and see. Thanks to everyone. It helps to know it is nothing too serious, just one more thing to contend with.
Tim N said Jan 03, 2014 19:16:22
Hi, I have come to this discussion a little late I think!

I am 44 years old and have had PCS since I was a teenager, although I only found out what it was last year.
As a young man i only suffered the sharp and sudden pains. The pains were / are so severe and sharp that I actually stop dead and stop breathing while waiting for it to pass, then sometimes I will have a lingering ache that may last upto a couple of days.
Now, as a young man I found that to deal with the 'ache' was that if I pushed my shoulders back and extended my chest, I would experience a tearing feeling in the site of the pain and often I was able to hear this... Really! lol

As I reached my 40's I found that I was often getting just a dull ache (the sharp pains would still be there sometimes ) and that it appeared to be getting worse. I tried telling Doctors about this weird thing I could do, but none actually took any notice. I think what started me thinking it was a heart problem was that as I got older the flexing of my chest didn't relieve the pain anymore.
Then I embarked on over a year going for ECGs, scans etc on my heart where it was found it was as healthy as a 43 year old heart gets.
Sometimes if I am anxious I do get a twinge, I admit, but generally, I am being a couch potato or driving when it happens. Or, to be honest, I can actually be doing anything when I get an attack.

I am pleased to be able to hear others stories from people who also have this as there isn't much information... But boy was I relieved when I first read about it and thought "that's me! That's what happens to me!" Such a relief I actually cried when I realised I wasn't dying (I'm not ashamed to admit it! Lol).
That said, I did ask my new doctor what symptoms of heart problems should I be concerned about and go see him for... He was unable to answer except to say exercise induced pain, palpitations and breathlessness should really prompt a visit to him.
Thanks for providing somewhere for me to say all this. :o)
VictoriaBlowman said Jan 11, 2014 06:13:57
Just found out about PCS yesterday and what a relief! Like most of you I have suffered from these pains for as long as I can remember,have childhood diaries where I've made notes about the pain at age 8. As a child I was terrified by it and even now at 40 the intense unexplained pain was scary. Most recent episode sent me to the doctor again and this is the first time PCS has been offered as an possibility. Past visits have been told its stress, diaphragm muscle strain and heartburn. Solutions offered Gaviscon, Ibuprofen and CBT, non of which worked.It would seem I'm my own worst enemy in creating additional symptoms once the pain starts. Shallow breathing leads to hyperventilating, which then produces pins and needle effects in extremities and light headed feeling (all listed as heart attack symptoms). Doctor has recommended the deep breathing, even though that is initially more painful, and has suggested yoga as a method of controlling breathing technique and relaxation. I'm going to give it a try. The best thing about finding out about PCS is that I have daughter who has just turned 9 and has started experiencing these pains too. I had never told her about my pains, didn't want to scare her, but when she started crying out in pain and getting scared I let her read my diaries to show her I had the same thing at her age.
pheebee123 said May 10, 2014 10:25:42
Hi all, I had a really bad attack last night for the first time in ages. Im 29 now but I got them quite frequently when I was younger. My symptoms were always a sharp stabbing pain which worsened when breathing too deeply. I've never had the 'popping' that some people describe, although if I raise my ribcage and press underneath I can feel a sort of bubble or knot that clicks (only on the left side). Not sure if its related to this, but it can be uncomfortable.

I believe my PCS last night was brought on by eating toasted white bread just before bed, could it be related to diet?
judi shekoni said May 30, 2014 14:55:53
Hi Great to find this forum I have had this condition all my life from childhood. I want to throw out a few things about me in case others have similar things and we can find a pattern.

A lot of stress/trauma as a child.
Overall restriction in my chest area - i.e. quite closed in the chest area and shoulders - i.e. low flexibility in chest opening stretches in yoga
Physically very narrow chest area/ frame - as in 32inch chest at 6 feet tall.
During singing lessons and yoga etc discovered I have a very low breathe capacity compared to others - like i have never used all my lungs - dont enjoy yoga or saunas as can feel like suffocating easily.

I can experiences it after meditation or healing work when i am trying to resolve something emotional - perhaps open my heart etc.

Sometimes feel like a part of chest/heart has been tightly locked and now something is popping open.

I do tend to look for an emotional reasons for a physical problems - but have had success in every other area with this process.
I once worked with a coach/healer and would get an occurrence during sessions which would make me want to stop but she would suggest pushing through as it was 'growing pain' from an expansion of an area previously holding tension and restriction - and this made sense.

Love to know anyone else thoughts or anything they wish to share to see if we can find a pattern.

I also used to suffer from locked jaw as a child - which in essence seems like the same thing only in the jaw - all is fine and then every now and then my jaw would lock and hurt to open it wide and have to just keep it narrow kind of wriggle it a bit and wait and it goes away and i can get full expansion again. My solution to the precordial catch is pretty much the same - allow the short little breathes so it doesnt hurt and stand up and wriggle around and stretch until i can get full expansion again. When i spoke openly with friends most friends who had suffered some sort of abuse or difficult childhoods ended up with locked jaw or jaw issues - the jaw carries a huge amount of our tension. I am wondering if it can be the same in this other area.


EileenShefer said Jul 18, 2014 12:09:12
I always remember as a child to get these stinging pains in the rib cage area, sometimes even on the right side. Those episodes would last from a few seconds to sometimes having me to stand still/sit for a few minutes waiting for the pain to pass everytime i tried to conciously breath in.

Last night being almost 25 now, I had about a 20min long episode. Left side, around the 5-6th rib counted from the collarbone down, towards the sternum (center of the chest).
I woke up from the irritation of the sting in my chest and started hurting more when i tried to change positions. I finally sat up observing myself if i'm still breathing and trying to get a count on my pulse (hard to do when half asleep), seeing if my heart was racing.

I tried lying down but woke up my husband with the grunt/low screech when it really hurt. He didn't know what to do, neither did I, so he turned the TV on for some distraction.

At some point it stopped hurting when i tested the worst position by lying on my right side. Earlier it felt like my heart and lung were flopping down due to gravity pushing on the pain area even more.

I'm glad my search gave me quick results since to this day I had no idea why I get these sporadic and irregular chest pain attacks. I don't smoke or drink, my BMI is 21 and my job keeps me busy and at a quick walking paste, up to 6mi per 12hr shift.

My ribs still hurt where i kept rubbing and putting pressure on the painful area. Hope I won't get such a PCS attack to soon again.
kristawrista said Nov 04, 2014 13:59:41
Hi GardenPlant,

It seems that this website/forum hasn't been written on in a while. I first started my search tonight on Google "Sharp quick pain in left ribs." A few websites popped up, so I browsed them, but came across this website:

Finally a name! PCS! I now have an idea about the pain I have been having for 16 years! I remember first getting this pain when I was 10 years old, now I am 26. When I was about 11, my mom took me to the Dr. I got X-rays and checked, but they said I had nothing.

Well all this time later I still feel the same pain:
About once a month I get a ten-second jolt of pain in my chest. On a scale from 0-10, 0 being no pain, 1 being low pain, and 10 being "the worst pain I've ever had," this sharp/quick pain is probably a 7. Then for the next 10 minutes, the pain decreases to a 2 or 3. There is a dull sore pain in between my ribs.

It's sad that there is not more details to this problem. I hope that there is a cure soon. The pain really "shocks" me every time. Recently I moved from California to Japan (where health insurance is very good), so perhaps I will got to the Dr. again. Any suggestions/feedback?

[Last edited Nov 04, 2014 14:05:46]
StaceyAvery said Nov 30, 2014 13:09:50
Hi GardenPlant!

I have been trying for years now to find the right description to figure out the cause of my chest pains... The first episode I can recall occurred in 2005, as I was driving. The pain was so sharp that I started to get dizzy and my vision blurred. I went straight to the hospital, and they did EKG test and diagnosed me with an irregular heartbeat, but that was about it.

A few weeks later, I visited my doctor as a follow up; they did another EKG and this time, he found no abnormalities...

The pain isn't a constant thing, and in most cases, it's only a dull pain... but I do believe that it is somehow triggered by stress. The pains had gone away for a few years, but recently I've been having them more frequently, and more intensely. It feels like my heart is being squeezed, until I am able to bear through the pain and take a deep breath... Then I feel a "pop", and the pain is gone, until the next episode. I too have noticed it occurs more when in a resting position. Slow deep breaths generally work for me, but it's breathing through the tightness that can be hard still.

I thank you so much for making this so clear. This site was able to answer the questions that my doctors couldn't. It's good to be able to put a name with a description, and to know you're not the only one dealing with it.
sarah said Jan 15, 2015 18:15:49
Hi GardenPlant, and everyone else!

My daughter is 16 and was diagnosed with PreCordial Catch Syndrome (chest stitch) within the last 6 months or so. When the consultant told us that's what it was I pushed him about it a little, explaining that she'll often be in tears with the pain etc, but he assured me that it was PCS. I googled it as soon as I got home and immediately knew he had correctly diagnosed her. I'm reading here today because she is in the middle of a really bad week of pain and I was looking for some ideas on how to relieve it, or some hope that it might start fading soon. Alas, I read here so many of you still suffering in your 30's and 40's so I see it's a much longer problem then I'd anticipated. Still it's nice to read others account of it, and will encourage my daughter to read these as there's definitely comfort in numbers.

She has never mentioned the 'pop', 'tear' as some of you refer to, and she gets no relief from changing her breathing patterns either. She also suffers what I'd describe as an irregular heart beat along with the pain sometimes. Her pain lasts days at a time and seems to be really severe at times. It's very difficult to listen to her and know I can't offer any solution.

Thanks everyone,
hannah said Jun 02, 2015 01:36:04
I haven't been diagnosed yet, but I will bring it up when I have time to visit the doctor next. I'm posting here so that others who find this page see that it's not entirely out of date. I just spent the last summer in therapy and undergoing tests to diagnose the cause of a sudden onset chest pain attack. It did not feel like the attacks I am used to, and it was very scary. I think it might be that a PCS attack triggered an intense panic response that made it feel a lot worse.

I have had PCS symptoms since I was about 10.

I haven't told anyone about these ongoing attacks--I'm 25 now and they happen about two-five times weekly. I can't really remember how often they happened as a kid, they may have gotten less frequent or perhaps they're just less frightening. I was scared I was dying when they first started, but too scared to tell anyone and I obviously haven't died yet. I found out the name of this condition by Googling "chest bubble pain." That's what it feels like, for sure. A tight, sharp, painful bubble in my chest that makes breathing hurt a lot. At this point I just try to inhale deeply and pop it, because I know it won't hurt me. But for years I'd stand absolutely still, breathing very gently, until it passed. It could take upwards of five minutes.

I've done EKGs and ultrasounds (my uncle has a heritable heart condition, so it was screening as a teenager), and all seems normal. My blood pressure and blood test levels are normal. I am not sure what good it'll do to tell a doctor.
[Last edited Jun 02, 2015 01:40:04]
Djc said Jun 19, 2015 23:43:52
I'll just add my story for the sake of documentation of this awful condition. My attacks started when I was 2 years old. I was barely talking, but would tell my mom my heart hurt. I assumed it was always my heart because of the location. When I was young, I could inhale until the pop would happen and it would immediately go away and I'd go about my day. I would get it several times a week. As I got older, it would happen less frequently-- in high school it could be 6 months in between episodes. My longest episode was in jr. high, it lasted for about 2 minutes. The most painful episode was in college-- I nearly passed out from the pain and lack of ability to breath deeply. By the time I was in college, the pain would be so severe I had no choice but to hold my breath, but it would never last more than 10-15 seconds. I am one of the lucky ones and discovered an article about Precordial Catch Syndrome when I was a Freshman in college and like everyone else felt immense relief to read someone explain my symptoms exactly-- even better than I could.

There are a lot of things that irritate me about this condition: 1. I've yet to meet a doctor who knows what PCS is, and when I mention it, they look at me like I'm a hypochondriac. and 2. I find it really irritating to read about how since this condition is benign no one feels the need to look for a cure or treatment or God forbid a freaking explanation of the cause! It may be benign, but that doesn't take away from the way in which this condition can be so debilitating. I have no heart condition, but did grow up with food allergies (gluten intolerant, still lactose intolerant and had a short period with an allergy to tomatoes), and exercise induced asthma. However, I was and am very active-- swimming my entire life (starting competitively when I was 4).

I've had diagnoses ranging from growing pains to acid reflux. The closest diagnosis was Pleurisy, but even that is a result of an illness and my condition is very random-- when I'm healthy and sick.. Active, at rest or even half-asleep-- it doesn't matter. I'm 27 now, and had my first one in nearly a year at 5AM this morning. I was half asleep. ---Actually, I just had another as I type this-- One symptom that I've noticed coming on in my older age is a soreness in my right breast, particularly in my nipple. It starts immediately after the pain subsides, and lasts for 24-48 hours. It's sore and achy, and pressure is the only thing that alleviates the discomfort. It makes me question (like many others) how specific this condition is to the lung.

I wish the best to everyone and am very relieved that we have found each other and can feel some solidarity in our suffering :)
hannah said Jun 20, 2015 02:44:58
So glad you chimed in, Djc. I feel for you. I think the main reason I've never told a doctor is that I don't want to be perceived as a hypochondriac. After being tested for unrelated reasons and finding out that I have no heart conditions, I know that I will just look like I'm making things up because there's nothing to show for it. On paper, I am fine. But still, it's not like I'm drug-seeking. I don't want pills for this--I doubt there's anything on the market that works fast enough to address the symptoms when they pop up, and I don't want to take anything all the time just in case I hit a flare-up. I would just like a professional to acknowledge that this is a real thing, and for someone to explain why it happens. I am very glad to learn that many people live with it and it does not appear to be serious. For a long time I was very worried that I would just drop dead because my heart was messed up.

For the sake of comparing stories and developing some sort of basic, casual database of correlations-- I have a history of asthma but no acid reflux. I could probably be diagnosed with pleurisy but I feel like that's more of a broad descriptor for certain pains than it is a diagnosis. Since my "panic attack" a year ago I have had recurring chest pains that are different from the PCS. I get stabbing, pulsing chest pains and soreness in my centre-left side directly behind my breast, at about nipple level, but not the "popping" sensation and not as sharp. The closest explanation I've found is pericarditis but that probably would have shown on EKG tests. Might just be a different, matured manifestation of PCS.
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