Barrel chest: What causes it?

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Barrel chest: What causes it?

Question

What causes barrel chest?

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Answer

The term "barrel chest" describes a rounded, bulging chest that resembles the shape of a barrel. Barrel chest isn't a disease, but it may indicate an underlying condition.

For example, people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — such as emphysema — often develop a slight barrel chest in the later stages of the disease. It occurs because the lungs are chronically overinflated with air, so the rib cage stays partially expanded all the time. This makes breathing less efficient and aggravates any existing shortness of breath.

Barrel chest also can be related to osteoarthritis affecting the joints where the ribs attach to the spine. These joints tend to stiffen and become fixed in their most expanded position — causing the appearance of a barrel chest.

Generally, barrel chest isn't treated.

Last Updated: 2010-08-07
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