What Is Pectus Excavatum?

Pectus excavatum is a congenitaldeformity of the chest wall that causes several ribs and the breastbone (sternum) to grow in an inward direction. 

Usually, the ribs and sternum go outward at the front of the chest. With pectus excavatum, the sternum goes inward to form a depression in the chest. This gives the chest a concave (caved-in) appearance, which is why the condition is also called funnel chest or sunken chest. Sometimes, the lower ribs might flare out.

What Causes Pectus Excavatum?

Doctors don't know exactly what causes pectus excavatum (PEK-tus eks-kuh-VAY-tum). In some cases, it runs in families.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pectus Excavatum?

The main sign of pectus excavatum is a chest that looks sunken in. Even though kids who have pectus excavatum are born with it, it might not be noticed in the first few years of life. Many cases are found in the early teenage years.

Mild cases might be barely noticeable. But severe pectus excavatum can cause a deep hollow in the chest that can put pressure on the lungs and heart, causing:

  • problems tolerating exercise
  • limitations with some kinds of physical activities
  • tiredness
  • chest pain
  • a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • coughing or wheezing

The condition typically gets worse as kids grow, and affects boys more often than girls. When a child is done growing, the pectus should not get any better or worse.

How Is Pectus Excavatum Treated?

Kids with mild pectus excavatum who aren't bothered by their appearance and don't have breathing problems  typically don't need treatment.

Mild pectus excavatum in young patients often can be treated at home with a Vacuum Bell device. In this nonsurgical approach, the bell device is placed on the chest. It's connected to a pump that sucks the air out of the device, creating a vacuum that pulls the chest forward. Over time, the chest wall stays forward on its own.

Mild pectus excavatum won't need treatment if it doesn't affect how the lungs or heart work. But when the condition is very noticeable or causes health problems, a person's self-image can suffer. It also can make exercising or playing sports difficult. In those cases, treatment can improve a child's physical and emotional well-being.

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