Pectus excavatum: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 16/01/2024
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Pectus excavatum, otherwise known as sunken chest or funnel chest, is a condition that causes a deformity of the chest. Find out about the causes, symptoms and treatment in this article.


What is pectus excavatum? 

Pectus excavatum, also known as sunken chest or funnel chest, is a deformity of the chest wall, in which the sternum has a sunken appearance, causing it to look caved-in, or concave.



What are the causes of pectus excavatum?

Pectus excavatum arises from the defective development of the cartilages that attach the ribs to the sternum.



What is the treatment for a sunken chest?

Usually, surgery is the best option for treatment. The aim of surgery is to move the sternum forward, to be at the same position as the cartilage and ribs. The classic operation is to remove the cartilage, manoeuvre the sternum forward and use osteosynthesis or mesh to keep it in the correct position.


Another technique called the Nuss technique was developed, which places a concave steel bar into the sternum with the aid of an endoscope. When the bar is flipped into a convex position, this moves the sternum forward. This surgery is less invasive than traditional surgery. 



Is pectus excavatum surgery suitable for both children and adults?

The Nuss technique is less invasive than the classic operation, but is only deemed suitable for younger patients when there is no calcification (accumulation of calcium salts in tissues in the body) and the cartilage is flexible.


A new technique, called the Pectus Up system, or taulinoplasty, allows even less invasive correction. A special implant is inserted into the most sunken part of the sternum, and special tools are used to lift the sternum into the correct position.   



Besides the physical aspect of pectus excavatum, are there any other symptoms?

Sometimes pectus excavatum is associated with asthma, or certain cardiac problems, but this is incidental. Surgery is usually motivated by the psychological repercussions that occur in those who suffer from the condition.



Are there any cases where surgery is not required to resolve a sunken chest?

Certain types of therapy are sometimes prescribed, such as vacuum bell therapies. These are very uncomfortable, and they require a great amount of perseverance and years of application in order to consolidate a correction. However, with those who have sufficient patience and willpower, they can work.



Are there any health consequences if corrective surgery is not performed?

Most health problems directly related to pectus excavatum are psychological. The condition may lead to the patient developing complexes, such as depression. There is also a chance that if chronic lung disease develops as the person ages, its course is aggravated and there may be more complications in those who have pectus excavatum.




If you require expert treatment for pectus excavatum, arrange a consultation with one of Top Doctors leading cardiothoracic surgeons


By Topdoctors
Cardiothoracic surgery

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