What is Pectus Excavatum?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 26 April 2020
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Pectus excavatum is an abnormality that pushes the sternum or breastbone inward. The condition generally occurs when the rib cage develops abnormally. Often, an individual with a pectus excavatum deformity is said to have a funnel chest that looks sunken in. The level of deformity caused by this medical abnormality can range from minor to severe.

This condition is generally congenital, which means it is present at birth. Although, the exact cause of pectus excavatum is not directly known, there are different factors that may contribute to its cause. Foremost, it may be caused by an overgrowth of the cartilage that connects the sternum and the ribs. Additionally, when more than one person in a family has the condition, it may be hereditary, therefore, genetics may be a leading factor as well. Sometimes, the condition can occur as a symptom of another disorder such as scoliosis or a connective tissue abnormality such as Marfan syndrome.

Many people may have no pectus excavatum symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include shortness of breath, an increased heart rate and fatigue. Often, a person with this condition will also experience chest pains. Other symptoms may include prolonged colds and the inability to withstand a great amount of physical exertion. For some children, the symptoms may become more intense as they grow.

To diagnose pectus excavatum, a doctor may order a variety of tests on the chest. The first test may be a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a chest X-ray. Cardiovascular specific tests may also be performed. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), a stress test and an echocardiogram. Some people will undergo a pulmonary function test. This will be done to evaluate the functionality of the lungs.

In a person with a minor case of this condition, he or she may not need any treatment. On the other hand, there are situations where symptoms can become so problematic that the quality of life is severely affected. If this happens surgical intervention may be necessary to treat the condition.

There are different types of pectus excavatum surgery. The objective of a pectus excavatum repair is to improve the patient's symptoms by correcting the deformity in the chest. Generally, surgeries for this condition will involve an open or a minimally invasive medical procedure. With each type of surgery, excessive cartilage is usually removed and portions of the sternum or breastbone is typically repositioned. After surgery, the chest may have a different appearance and symptoms such as breathing difficulties and excessive fatigue will usually improve.

Usually, an individual who undergoes a minimally invasive surgical procedure will have a shorter hospitalization period. In addition, he or she may not have as much post-surgical pain as with an open surgery. As with any type of surgery, the most common risks of this type of procedure are bleeding and infection. Individuals suspected to have pectus excavatum should seek a medical evaluation. After a complete examination, a doctor will be able to positively identify the condition and advise on the best method of treatment.


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