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Kerry, Nurse (RN)
Category: Health
Satisfied Customers: 4312
Experience:  35 years in Nursing: OB/GYN, Peds, Oncology, hospice, Ortho, Neuro, Addiction, Recovery, Geriatrics,
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My husband has a sharp pain just under his rib cage, its

Customer Question

My husband has a sharp pain just under his rib cage, its affecting his breathing, he says it hurts to breath in but not out. What could this be?
Submitted: 11 years ago.
Category: Health
Expert:  Kerry replied 11 years ago.

It could be a heart attack. It could also be a lung infection. Either way, better to be safe than sorry. Give the doctor a call, or head to the ER.


Kerry, Nurse (RN)
Category: Health
Satisfied Customers: 4312
Experience: 35 years in Nursing: OB/GYN, Peds, Oncology, hospice, Ortho, Neuro, Addiction, Recovery, Geriatrics,
Kerry and 5 other Health Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  nursehope replied 11 years ago.
Possible bruised rib, broken rib, pulled muscle, respiratory infection or even cardiac disorder. He should be evaluated by MD to be sure.
Expert:  BarbaraTaylor replied 11 years ago.
Cardiac pain is not usually characterized as "sharp" and affected by breathing.

I too feel he needs to be evaluated.

His symtpoms sound like pericarditis to me. That is an inflammation in the sacs that surround the heat and the pain w/ inspiration is a very common sign in pericarditis. Also just moving around can cause the sharp pain.

Pericarditis is not life threatening as long as treatment is given. The treatment is easy. The diagnosis is too as long as the physician is accustomed to dealing w/ pericarditits and can hear a cardiac 'rub', the usual sound from the heart that accompanies pericarditis.

This can be caused by injury to the heart such as a heart attack but occurs days later than the MI (myocardial infarction), post op after surgery to the heart, a viral symdrome and sometimes there is no cause found and it just happens.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to Kerry's Post: Hi Kerry, thanks for the answer, one nurse says pericarditis, are you familiar with this? His pain is lower than his heart, right by his last rib on the left side. Now i am just wondering, we have been painting in the house for the last few days, he did the ceilings, could this maybe strain a muscle? Trying to figure this out, we unfortunatly lost our insurance due to a longer then expected layoff. Thanks again for any answers you might have.
Expert:  Kerry replied 11 years ago.


Let me find you a list of symptoms for each one:

The most common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain. The pain is predominantly felt below the breastbone (sternum) and/or below the ribs on the left side of the chest and, occasionally, in the upper back or neck. Breathing causes the lungs and heart to move in the chest and rub against the irritated pericardium, worsening the pain. Pain may worsen when patients lie down and may improve when they sit up and lean forward. Changes in position can increase or decrease pressure on and irritation of the inflamed pericardium.

Heart attack:
Although chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack, heart attack victims may experience a diversity of symptoms that include:

  • Pain, fullness, and/or squeezing sensation of the chest
  • Jaw pain, toothache, headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or general epigastric (upper middle abdomen) discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Heartburn and/or indigestion
  • Arm pain (more commonly the left arm, but may be either arm)
  • Upper back pain
  • General malaise (vague feeling of illness)
  • No symptoms (Approximately one quarter of all heart attacks are silent, without chest pain or new symptoms. Silent heart attacks are especially common among patients with diabetes mellitus)



DEFINITION--Injury to the muscles and tendons that attach to the sternum (breastbone). Muscles, tendons and bone comprise units. The units stabilize the breastbone and ribs and allow their motion. A strain occurs at the weakest part of a unit. Strains are of 3 types:

  • Mild (Grade I)--Slightly pulled muscle without tearing of muscle or tendon fibers. There is no loss of strength.
  • Moderate (Grade II)--Tearing of fibers in a muscle, tendon or at the attachment to a rib. Strength is diminished.
  • Severe (Grade III)--Rupture of the muscle-tendon-rib attachment with separation of fibers. Severe strain requires surgical repair. Chronic strains are caused by overuse. Acute strains are caused by direct injury or overstress.


  • Muscle and tendons that attach the ribs to the sternum.
  • Sternum.
  • Soft tissue surrounding the strain, including nerves, periosteum (covering to bone), blood vessels and lymph vessels. {96}


  • Pain when moving or stretching, especially "pushing" movements of the arms.
  • Muscle spasm.
  • Swelling around the injury.
  • Loss of strength (moderate or severe strain).
  • Crepitation ("crackling") feeling and sound when the injured area is pressed with fingers.
  • Calcification of muscles or tendons (visible with X-rays).


  • Prolonged overuse of muscle-tendon units attached to the sternum and ribs.
  • Single violent injury or force applied to the muscle-tendon units around the sternum and ribs.


  • Contact sports.
  • Weight-lifting.
  • Any cardiovascular medical problem that results in decreased circulation.
  • Medical history of any bleeding disorder.
  • Obesity.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Previous sternum or rib injury.
  • Poor muscle conditioning.


    Use instructions for R.I.C.E., the first letters of REST, ICE, COMPRESSION and ELEVATION



  • Use ice massage 3 or 4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Fill a large Styrofoam cup with water and freeze. Tear a small amount of foam from the top so ice protrudes. Massage firmly over the injured area in a circle about the size of a softball.
  • After the first 24 hours, apply heat instead of ice, if it feels better. Use heat lamps, hot soaks, hot showers, heating pads, or heat liniments and ointments.
  • Take whirlpool treatments, if available.
  • Wrap the chest with an elasticized bandage between treatments.
  • Massage gently and often to provide comfort and decrease swelling.


  • For minor discomfort, you may use: Aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Topical liniments and ointments.
  • Your doctor may prescribe: Stronger pain relievers. Injection of a long-acting local anesthetic to reduce pain. Injections of corticosteroids, such as triamcinolone, to reduce inflammation.


    Resume your normal activities gradually.

  • Hope this has helped!

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