Pectus Carinatum Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What is pectus carinatum?

Pectus carinatum is a deformity of your child's chest wall in which it is pushed outward. It’s often asymmetrical, with one side of the chest affected more than the other. In addition, some children have pectus carinatum on one side of the chest and an indentation called pectus excavatum on the other side of the chest. 

There are two basic types of pectus carinatum: 

  • Chondrogladiolar prominence (also known as “chicken breast”) — nearly 95 percent of people who have pectus carinatum have this type.
     
  • Chondromanubrial prominence (also known as “Pouter pigeon breast”) — this rare type of pectus carinatum can be more complex to treat.


Causes 

What causes pectus carinatum?

The exact cause of pectus carinatum is not known. There is abnormal growth of the bones and cartilage, but we don’t know why. It runs in families; in up to 25 percent of cases, there is someone else in the family who has it.

Signs and symptoms

What are the symptoms of pectus carinatum?

While many children with the condition don’t experience any symptoms beyond a concern about their appearance, some children have the following symptoms: 

  • Difficulty breathing during exercise or other activities
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Asthma

When does pectus carinatum become apparent?

It can sometimes be seen in newborns and during early childhood. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t become apparent until your child is 11 or 12. It’s rare for the condition to show up after that.

Are there any medical complications associated with pectus carinatum?

It is often associated with other abnormalities of the muscles or skeleton, the most common being curvature of the spine, or scoliosis. It’s also associated with a number of rare musculoskeletal syndromes. 

In rare cases, if pectus carinatum is present during infancy, it may be associated with premature fusion of the segments of the breastbone, a short wide breastbone and congenital heart disease.

How serious is pectus carinatum?

The level of severity goes from almost unnoticeable to severe, but the condition does tend to get worse during growth spurts. 

What is the long-term outlook for my child?

Pectus carinatum is primarily a cosmetic concern. Mild cases may not need any treatment at all, while moderate-to-severe cases can be treated effectively by bracing or surgery. Either way, children with pectus carinatum almost always go on to lead completely normal lives.

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