Image of young male with pectus excavatum (sunken chest)

Pectus Excavatum (Sunken Chest) is a deformity of the chest wall that causes several ribs and breastbone to grow inward to form a depression of the chest, giving it a concave (sunken) appearance. Pectus Excavatum is one of the most common chest wall disorders in children. The opposite condition can also occur – the chest wall sticks out called pectus carinatum or pigeon chest. However, pectus excavatum is more common. While these conditions can be seen in infancy and childhood, chest disorders usually become more evident as children grow.

Possible Symptoms

  • problems tolerating exercise
  • limitations with some kinds of physical activities
  • tiredness
  • chest pain
  • a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • coughing or wheezing

Possible Diagnosis

The sunken chest is usually noticed by a parent/caregiver or a physician during a routine exam. If the patient, family and surgeon decide that surgery is needed, the following tests may be ordered:

  • Computed tomography (CT) of the chest – detailed pictures are taken of the chest (similar to x-rays)
  • Echocardiography – ultrasound of the heart 
  • Lung function tests
  • Exercise stress testing 

Possible Treatments

These chest wall conditions are not life-threatening. However, some sunken chest walls might cause discomfort such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, fatigue, scoliosis and difficulty playing sports because of the pressure on the chest. Depending on how sunken the chest wall is and if there are any symptoms, surgery may or may not be needed.

For the past 15 years, the pediatric surgeons at Arkansas Children's have corrected pectus excavatum using the Nuss procedure's minimally invasive technique. The team also uses cryoablation, which temporarily freezes the nerves in the area of the surgery to help block pain, which helps control pain and shortens the hospital stay.

If you are concerned that your child may have a chest wall disorder or you are seeking treatment, please call us to schedule an appointment with the general pediatric surgeons at Arkansas Children's.

See How Surgery Changed Caden's Outlook on Life

When Caden entered his teenage years, he wanted something to change about his appearance. His chest was sunken in, impacting the way he saw himself and even what he wore daily. His family brought him to see Dr. Sid Dassinger, a pediatric surgeon at Arkansas Children's.

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