Pectus excavatum is a medical term that describes an abnormal formation of the rib cage that gives the chest a caved-in or sunken appearance.
Pectus excavatum occurs in a baby who is developing in the womb. It can also develop in a baby after birth. The condition can be mild or severe.
Pectus excavatum is due to too much growth of the connective tissue that joins the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). This causes the sternum to grow inward. As a result, there is a depression in the chest over the sternum, which may appear quite deep.
If the condition is severe, the heart and lungs can be affected. Also, the way the chest looks may cause emotional stress for the child.
The exact cause is unknown. Pectus excavatum occurs by itself. Or there may be a family history of the condition. Other medical problems linked with this condition include:
Contact your health care provider if you or your child has any of the following:
Your provider will perform a physical examination. An infant with pectus excavatum may have other symptoms and signs that, when taken together, define a specific condition known as a syndrome.
The provider will also ask about medical history, such as:
Tests may be done to rule out suspected disorders. These tests may include:
Tests may also be done to find out how severely the lungs and heart are affected.
This condition can be surgically repaired. Surgery is generally advised if there are other health problems, such as trouble breathing. Surgery may also be done to improve the appearance of the chest. Talk to your provider about treatment options.
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.