pectus-excavatum

What is pectus excavatum?

Pectus excavatum (PE) is an abnormal development of the rib cage where the breastbone (sternum) caves in, resulting in a sunken chest wall deformity. Sometimes referred to as "funnel chest," pectus excavatum is a deformity often present at birth (congenital) that can be mild or severe in adults and children.

What causes pectus excavatum?

The cause of pectus excavatum is not well understood. Yet, researchers believe that the deformity is caused by excessive growth of the connective tissue (cartilage) that joins the ribs to the breastbone (also known as the costochondral region), which causes an inward defect of the sternum.

While the vast majority of pectus excavatum cases are not associated with any other condition, some disorders may include the sunken chest feature of pectus excavatum, including:

Marfan syndrome: A connective tissue disorder, which causes skeletal defects typically recognized by long limbs and ‘spider-like’ fingers, chest abnormalities, curvature of the spine and certain facial features including a highly arched palate, and crowded teeth.

Rickets: A deficiency disease occurring primarily in children, Rickets results from a lack of vitamin D or calcium and from insufficient exposure to sunlight, which disturbs normal bone growth.

Scoliosis: A curvature of the spine.

Who is affected by pectus excavatum?

Pectus excavatum is a fairly common congenital deformity that accounts for approximately 90 percent of congenital wall deformities. Approximately 40 percent of pectus excavatum patients have one or more family members with the same defect.

Pectus excavatum occurs more often in men than women, appearing in 1 per every 300 to 400 white male births.

Is pectus excavatum serious?

Pectus excavatum is not preventable, but the condition is treatable. In rare cases if the condition is left untreated, pectus excavatum can cause compression of the heart and lungs.

In addition to pectus excavatum causing an unattractive appearance of the chest wall, the condition can also force the heart into the left chest to varying degrees, depending on the severity of the defect.

Contact your doctor if the following symptoms occur

  • Trouble breathing
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Chest pain

Reviewed: 02/17