Bone, Joint and Muscle Conditions

Pectus Excavatum Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Pectus Excavatum

Pectus excavatum is caused by a developmental defect in the cartilage that holds the ribs to the breastbone. This cartilage grows abnormally. It pushes the breastbone in so that your child's chest looks sunken. The opposite condition is called pectus carinatum . In pectus carinatum, the cartilage flares out and pushes the breastbone forward.

You may first notice a dent in the chest when your child is a baby. Sometimes, though, pectus excavatum does not show up until later. The dent may become more noticeable as your child grows, especially during growth spurts. Or the dent may disappear and never become a problem. What often appears to be pectus excavatum in babies goes away on its own over time.

Pectus excavatum may cause no symptoms for your child at all. Your child may not need any treatment. Some moderate to severe cases of pectus excavatum don't cause symptoms, but may affect how your child looks.

In some cases, the shape of your child's chest causes discomfort. Symptoms can appear when the heart and lungs are pushed upon and shifted inside the chest. Children with moderate to severe defects may have:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing when exercising

Pectus Excavatum Diagnosis

To diagnose pectus excavatum, the doctor will also ask you about any symptoms your child has had and examine your child.

If the condition is moderate to severe and your child has symptoms, they child will need tests to assess their heart and lungs. These tests may include:

  • CT scan (computed tomography scan, sometimes said "cat scan")
  • Lung function tests, sometimes with exercise, to check breathing patterns
  • Ultrasound of the heart ( echocardiogram , or ECHO)