Uncomfortable around the left chest area? Before you jump to serious conclusions, like a heart attack, know there are actually many conditions that could be causing pain under your left breast. (But if you do suspect a heart attack, jump here.)
After all, there’s many vital organs — like your heart, stomach, and kidneys — that live there.
But location doesn’t always mean that the issue is serious. Some causes are easily treated, especially if it’s a digestive issue. Make a list of your other symptoms and scroll down to see what condition might fit your scenario.
Your heart is placed in the left/center of your chest, so it can obviously raise concern when you’re feeling sharp pains near your left breastbone.
If you’re experiencing pain or symptoms of a heart attack (chest and arm pain, nausea, sweating, dizziness, or a feeling of doom) for over 5 minutes, take action.
Emergency: Get treatment
Have a neighbor or friend take you to the ER, or call 911 ASAP. Don’t ignore or try and tough it out! Every minute you’re dealing with a heart attack can create more damage to your heart tissue.
If you’re able and it’s safe, take an aspirin to help thin the blood so that it has an easier time reaching the heart.
Symptoms of a heart attack
When a heart attack starts, you may feel chest pain that can last for more than 15 minutes. It’s also possible to not have symptoms at all — one-third of people experiencing heart attacks won’t feel chest pain.
Symptoms are also very different between sexes. For example, females tend to experience unbearable night sweats and pain in their upper back.
Other symptoms to watch out for:
- pressure or squeezing pain in your chest
- pain or discomfort along your shoulders, neck, jawline, arms, and sometimes abdomen
- shortness of breath
While surprising, a heart attack may cause symptoms before the actual attack. You could feel fatigue, heart palpitations, and indigestion weeks or days before.
Treatment depends on the severity and cause of the heart attack.
For a partially blocked artery, you may just simply need to take medications. Aspirin, blood-thinning, and blood-clotting medications can help dissolve blood clots and help maintain blood flow to the heart.
For a totally blocked or narrowed artery, you may need a procedure. Two of the most common procedures are:
- coronary angioplasty and stent placement: AKA percutaneous coronary intervention, this nonsurgical procedure involves threading a catheter with a balloon through a blood vessel to help restore blood flow.
- coronary artery bypass grafting: During this surgical procedure, a healthy artery or vein will be grafted to the artery to help blood bypass the blockage.
Heart disease and heart attacks may be prevented by what you eat and your activity level.
The American Heart Association recommends following a meal plan that limits saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. The food pyramid might be an oldie-but-goodie rule to follow: eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
For exercise, they recommend keeping your body moving with either 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week (think “wow I feel my heart rate”) or vigorously intense exercise (think “I need a recovery day”) 75 minutes per week.
That “fun” burning sensation that often comes after eating or buttoning up your jeans? That’s acids traveling up the GI tract, spreading through your upper chest and throat.
Besides the pain, heartburn can cause:
- a bitter, sour, or acidic taste in your mouth
- increased pain when you lay down or bend over
- a tight chest or bloated feeling
- nausea, or feeling food that you recently ate come back up your throat
If this happens often, your doctor might put you on a regular medicine to help block or reduce the amount of acid that comes up from your stomach. Otherwise, you may be told to just take some OTC antacids when needed.
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn, including things that are:
- spicy 🔥
- high in fat content
- loaded with garlic
If you find that heartburn happens a lot at night, elevate yourself using extra pillows or bed risers so that your chest and head are above your waist. This will help prevent acid from traveling up.
Inflammation around the heart (pericarditis)
The pericardium, which surrounds your heart, is a thin membrane with an outer and inner layer. When it’s inflamed and irritated, it can rub up against the heart and create chest pain.
If you feel a sharp stabbing pain in your chest and notice it gets worse when you lie down, cough, or swallow, you may have pericarditis. This pain can extend to your back, neck, or shoulders.
Other symptoms may include:
- a desire to throw up
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
This depends on what’s causing the condition, which can vary from a viral or bacterial infection to an inflammatory condition. In this case, you may be treated with pain meds, anti-inflammatories, or antibiotics.
In some cases, you may require surgery to help drain fluid around the heart.
Since pericarditis is a rare condition that isn’t linked to a specific lifestyle or condition, you can only reduce the pain by getting prompt medical treatment.
Recovery is usually quick but it’s not uncommon for it to also take several months.
Pinched or irritated nerves in the chest wall (precordial catch syndrome)
Also referred to as “Texidor’s Twinge,” this condition is felt around the ribs.
Children and young adults are more likely to deal with this, as it can be triggered by growth spurts, injury to the chest, and even bad posture. It typically goes away in your 20s.
There’s only one symptom when it comes to precordial catch syndrome: pain. But there’s a very specific way this pain appears.
- be sharp and stabbing
- short (anywhere from seconds to a few minutes)
- get worse with deep breathing
Treatment or remedies
The treatment is pretty simple. A doctor will likely recommend OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (like ibuprofen).
You may also be able to prevent this by practicing good posture. Keep your chest open when sitting up to prevent any internal pinching.
If you feel anxiety around this pain, try to use relaxation techniques, such as meditation or listening to music, to help.
Like pericarditis, your lungs have a membrane that surrounds them, too. When this membrane becomes irritated and inflamed, it can become painful.
Depending on which lung gets affected (or both), pain will occur on either the left or right side.
The pain can get worse with breathing, coughing, or sneezing. You might find yourself taking shallow breaths to avoid triggering the pain.
You’ll need a doctor to diagnose what’s causing pleurisy. If it’s a bacterial infection, you’ll get an antibiotic to help wipe it out. For viral infections, you’ll likely receive OTC pain meds to help reduce pain while your body fights the virus on its own.
Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, or prescribe a steroid drug.
During this time, you’ll want to make sure you get a lot of rest and avoid smoking or vaping as it can irritate your lungs further.
This typically happens after someone turns 40 and affects those with XX chromosomes.
The cause is often unidentifiable, as it can be anything from a physical strain or arthritis to a joint infection. Improvement is usually a waiting game.
While it may be hard to differentiate from a heart attack, costochondritis usually doesn’t include sweating, widespread pain, or breathlessness. Instead, the pain will be:
- under your left breast
- sharp, achy, or heavy in pressure
- around more than one rib
- worse when you cough or breathe deeply
Since this condition needs to improve on its own, doctors will probably prescribe medication that helps with pain relief. This can be anything from OTC meds to narcotics.
Chronic pain may be treated with antidepressants or anti-seizure drugs.
At home, you can try:
- hot and cold therapy by alternating between a heating pad and an ice pack
- rest, like laying in bed
- stretching exercises, but not strenuous exercises or manual labor because it can cause flares
If you recently took a blow to the chest, it’s possible an injured rib is making you feel that sharp pain under your breast. Broken ribs can cause even more damage by piercing some vital organs.
Wherever the injury occurred, you’re going to feel pain and tenderness.
Deep breathing can bring about some sharp pains, along with movements such as twisting or bending over.
It’s pretty hard to cast up a broken rib, so doctors will prescribe or recommend pain meds until everything heals.
Protect yourself by wearing proper equipment if the injury came from playing sports or manual labor. Buckle up when you get behind the wheel, too.
Inflammation in stomach lining (gastritis)
It’s true, your stomach sits closer to the upper left side of your body and not directly in the middle. When your stomach gets inflamed, you’re bound to feel it on the left side.
Certain medications, spicy foods, and alcoholic beverages can cause your stomach lining to flare up.
You may not even notice any symptoms when dealing with gastritis. If you do, they’ll typically include:
- a burning achy pain (indigestion) in your upper stomach
- feeling overly full after eating
Oftentimes, your doc will recommend taking OTC antacids or acid-reducing meds. If those don’t calm your tum, then it’s possible the cause is from a bacterial infection (H. pylori, we’re looking at you). If that’s the case, antibiotics will do the trick.
Since alcohol, spicy foods, and hard-to-digest fatty foods can make the situation worse, it’s best to avoid or eliminate them altogether.
You can prevent getting H. pylori by washing your hands frequently and eating foods that are completely cooked.
Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
Your pancreas is an organ that hangs out behind your stomach. It helps produce enzymes for digestion and hormones that regulate the way your body processes sugar.
When these cells become activated while still in the pancreas, it can cause inflammation and irritation.
If this is serious but not yet chronic, you’ll feel pain that:
- spreads slowly around your upper abs (and sometimes back)
- ranges from mild to severe
- can last several days
Pain from chronic pancreatitis, however, may be more severe and get worse after eating.
You may also experience other symptoms such as:
- losing weight when you’re not trying
- steatorrhea (oily and smelly 💩)
Get immediate treatment if you have:
- yellow skin or eyes
- shortness of breath
- fever and chills
- fast heartbeat
Immediate treatment is often a hospital stay for rehydration, pain meds, and a low fat meal plan.
For more serious conditions, surgery may be needed to:
- remove gallstones or damaged tissues
- unblock bile ducts
- drain abscesses
Gallstones are present in 40–60 percent of acute pancreatitis cases. To prevent those from forming, try:
- exercising regularly
- not smoking
- avoiding alcohol
- eating a balanced diet
Got a baby coming? You may feel pain in the area under your left breast due to the uterus growing or your baby throwing a few kicks and jabs in there.
Beyond the stabbing pain you’re feeling under your left breast, you may notice symptoms such as:
- rib cage changing position to allow space for the baby
Treating pain while pregnant can get tricky, as a lot of medications can be unsafe for the baby.
The CDC found that taking NSAIDs (ibuprofen) or opioids (codeine, oxycodone) early on in pregnancy may be linked to issues such as cleft palate, congenital heart defects, or spina bifida. However, researchers were unable to determine if these issues were a result of medications or underlying conditions.
If pain persists, your best bet is to discuss the issue with your doctor before reaching for an OTC pain medication.
Fortunately there may be alternative therapies for pain. A 2015 study found that stretching and taking time to rest can help with pain management during pregnancy.
Alternative treatments include prenatal yoga, acupuncture (deemed safe!), and water therapy.
Your spleen is an organ that lives right under your 9th, 10th, and 11th rib cage, on the left side. It’s also the unlucky organ that’s most likely to get injured if your abdominal area gets hurt.
Sports, cycling, and car accidents all increase your risk for a ruptured spleen. Certain illnesses like that pesky pancreatitis may also cause a spleen rupture.
- pain on the left side of your body (shoulder or chest)
- tenderness when you touch the upper left side of your abs
- confusion, dizziness, and feeling lightheaded
The treatment for an injured spleen can vary depending on how severe it is.
If it’s a small or moderate-sized injury, you may just need to hang in the hospital for a bit while it heals itself. This is the case for 60–90 percent of spleen ruptures.
A larger injury (like a full-blown rupture) may require surgery to either stitch up the spleen, remove it partially, or remove it completely.
There are times when your spleen can get enlarged due to infections, liver or blood diseases, and other conditions. When the spleen is enlarged, even a minor hit to the chest could make it rupture.
Protect it by avoiding contact sports, heavy lifting, or any other activities that may risk a hit to the abdomen.
A hiatal hernia is a fairly common condition (given its known risk factors such as obesity, aging, pregnancies, and history of throat or stomach surgery).
This type of hernia causes increased pressure in the abdominal area, which lets stomach acid slip through and causes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn.
While chest pain is less common, a hiatal hernia often causes:
- swallowing issues
- bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
- dry, repeated cough
- nausea and vomiting
- extra mucus production
Most hiatal hernias don’t require treatment, but things to help with heartburn and GERD can help.
The goal of treating GERD is to keep stomach acid in your stomach. It might take several weeks to feel full relief, but your doctor will probably suggest:
- medication for heartburn or acid reflux, such as OTC antacids
- sleeping with your head raised by 4 to 6 inches
- changes to your diet
Surgery may be done as a last resort if meds aren’t helping the symptoms that are occurring.
Some tweaks to your lifestyle can get your symptoms under control. This includes:
- eating smaller meals
- sitting up straight during and after meals (sorry, no coffee naps)
- limiting foods that give you heartburn
- stopping smoking or vaping
- avoiding large dinners so your stomach can settle
The majority of the time, a little rest and relaxation will make your pain go bye-bye, but a trip to your doc should be a priority if:
- your chest is injured
- the pain under your breast is unexpected
- the pain or chest tightness doesn’t go away, even after resting
- you’re feeling sick, having trouble breathing, or are profusely sweating
It can get scary when you feel pain close to an important organ such as your heart. While it’s likely not a heart attack, it never hurts to get evaluated by a professional.
The conditions that may be triggering your chest pain are often improved with meds or lifestyle adjustments.