Concave chest (pectus excavatum)

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Pectus excavatum: How is it treated?

Question

My young nephew has sunken chest (pectus excavatum). What causes this? Can it be corrected?

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Answer

Pectus excavatum is the medical term for an abnormality of the rib cage that results in a caved-in or sunken appearance of the chest. This condition, which is present at birth (congenital), is due to abnormal growth of the connective tissue joining the ribs to the breastbone (sternum) during fetal development. Usually, the abnormality is mild and needs no treatment.

Rarely, pectus excavatum is severe enough to affect function of the heart and lungs. Signs and symptoms that warrant medical evaluation include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty with exercise or physical activity
  • Chest pain
  • Chest redness or swelling
  • Discharge from the chest area

Severe pectus excavatum usually is associated with spinal deformities, such as scoliosis. Treatment in such cases may include surgical correction of pectus excavatum. Surgery can also be performed for cosmetic reasons if the appearance of the chest causes psychological difficulties.

Pectus excavatum

Illustration of pectus excavatum

Pectus excavatum is the medical term for an abnormality of the rib cage that results in a caved-in or sunken appearance of the chest.

Last Updated: 04/19/2007
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