Does Your Child Have Sunken Chest Syndrome? Here’s What You Should Know

Jan 29, 2022

Does your child have sunken chest syndrome? Here’s what you need to know about pectus excavatum.

Does Your Child Have Sunken Chest Syndrome? Here's What You Should Know

Sunken chest syndrome, or Pectus Excavatum, occurs in an estimated 1 in 300-400 births, with male predominance (male-to-female ratio of 4:1).

Even though kids are born with pectus excavatum, it may not be noticeable until early childhood, or more typically until the early teenage years. Pectus excavatum is when the sternum is sunken in and is hereditary, meaning it passes through families. Some symptoms a person can experience with pectus excavatum: 

• 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

• shortness of breath 

• GI complaints 

• heartburn

Dr. Barry LoSasso, MD, is the founder of the Center of Excellence For Pectus and adult general and pediatric surgeon, who specializes in diagnosing and treating children and adults with pectus excavatum. To get a better take on what parents or caretakers should know if they notice one our children might be experiencing pectus excavatum, Dr. LoSasso has outlined the most frequently asked questions.

As a parent, what are some things we could look for that would indicate our child has pectus excavatum, or sunken chest syndrome?

Dr. Barry LoSasso: This is a great question as some cases might be quite mild, and to the naked eye you may only see a slight depression in the chest as opposed to a deep concave depression. Some kids don’t know they have it until they start to participate in athletics. They may experience shortness of breath, tiredness or decreased stamina compared to the other kids their age. If you start to notice this, and see a depression in their chest, it’s a good idea to have them checked out by their doctor (general practitioner, pediatrician, pediatric cardiologist).

What can be done to fix pectus excavatum? 

Dr. LoSasso: Typically surgery, the Nuss Procedure in particular, has the best outcome for anyone young or old who experiences complications with pectus excavatum. Over the years, we’ve been able to modify and perfect techniques that are much less invasive for the patient with better results. My preference is the Nuss Procedure, named after its creator, Dr. Donald Nuss, in which stainless steel bars are inserted into the chest cavity and pushes the chest wall out into proper alignment. 

You can think of it like a set of braces, in which the body adapts to the new placement as it grows, resetting it into the correct position. Once the body has adapted, the bars come out and the patient is able to resume activities, including sports. My preference in using the Nuss Procedure is because it’s minimally invasive, and has the best outcome for anyone young or old who experiences symptoms related to pectus excavatum


What can my child expect if they elect to have their pectus excavatum corrected via surgery? 

Dr. LoSasso: The majority of my patients who’ve elected to have their pectus excavatum corrected tell me that they have a lot more energy. When the chest wall is sunken in, the heart and lungs have to work so hard to function against the pressure. When that pressure is alleviated, their heart can pump properly, their lungs can fill to full capacity, and their body can function at optimum levels. Sports become more fun to play and everyday activities aren’t so taxing on their bodies. Their quality of life dramatically improves. 


What are some resources for parents when they want to learn more about pectus excavatum, or sunken chest syndrome? 

Dr. Barry LoSasso: I have done quite a few webinars specifically for parents of children with pectus excavatum. We cover a lot of topics ranging from what tests need to be done beforehand, post-surgery pain management, and traveling for the surgery. This is a great place for parents to get more familiar with the syndrome and to hear questions from other parents. is also a great resource for parents to learn more about the condition, as well as keep up to date on industry news. 

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