Pectus excavatum :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

Pectus Excavatum

Surgery Helps Children with Sunken Chest Syndrome

Sunken chest syndrome—formally known as pectus excavatum—affects at least one in 1,000 children in the U.S. In this condition, part of the rib cage curves toward the spine, giving the chest a caved-in look. The condition is about five times more common in boys than girls. Although it’s usually noticeable early in life, it tends to get worse during the teenage growth spurt.

Living with Pectus Excavatum

Youngsters with a sunken chest often suffer self-consciousness and teasing about their appearance. Some may develop shortness of breath or chest pain because there is less room for their lungs and heart to work. If the condition is not corrected, symptoms often worsen in adulthood, when the chest wall becomes less flexible.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Surgery to correct a sunken chest is usually performed in adolescence, when chest growth is within a few years of completion.

The latest method is a minimally invasive operation called the Nuss procedure. A curved steel rod, custom-shaped to the child, is inserted through a small incision and placed beneath the ribs and breastbone. Once in place, the rod is rotated, pushing the chest wall out. The rod stays in place for about two years, changing the shape of the chest as the child grows.

A study in Pediatrics, conducted at 11 hospitals, found that corrective surgery improved young patients’ self-image and exercise capacity. Surgery may also decrease other symptoms by giving the heart and lungs more space to do their vital work. As with any surgery, there are risks. Talk with your child’s doctor if you’re considering surgery to correct sunken chest syndrome.

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