What is Pectus Excavatum?

Pectus excavatum is abnormal growth of the ribs and breast bone resulting in a sunken chest. The depression can be in the center of the chest or off to one side. Some children with sunken chest may experience shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, and chest pain. Pectus excavatum, especially when mild, may cause relatively few discreet symptoms, but may affect your child’s body image.

Who gets it?

The exact cause for pectus excavatum is unknown, although there is evidence of a possible genetic link as this often runs in families. Pectus excavatum is more common in boys than in girls. It can be present in very young children, even babies, or it may only become noticeable as the child grows. The dip often becomes more noticeable during growth spurts.

Will my child need surgery?

The need for surgery is best made with a clinical evaluation. Certain tests can be done to help make the diagnosis of pectus excavatum. A CT scan of the chest will help measure the indentation and an echocardiogram (EKG) will help determine any problems with heart function. Sometimes tests to evaluate the possibility of breathing problems (pulmonary function tests) may be needed. There is no perfect test for deciding who can benefit from surgery. Therefore, the decision regarding surgery is usually made by the surgeon together with the child and the child’s family.

Your child’s evaluation

If you or your child’s doctor feels your child may have pectus excavatum, we will schedule an appointment at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City or one of our clinics in the Quad Cities or Waterloo. During this appointment, you and your child will meet with one of our surgeons and pediatric surgery team members, and you will be counseled on treatment options, the possibility of surgery, perioperative care, and follow-up treatment.

Medical Services