Have you ever noticed someone whose chest sinks inward in the front, kind of like a funnel? The first time I ever noticed this bony malformation was when I was in high school, and a friend of mine on the soccer team had one. It was called “pectus excavatum,” he told me.
In my thoracic surgery training, I was often called upon to evaluate patients with this chest wall abnormality. As a result, I began to delve deeper into some of the issues that may affect people with this type of defect.
Pectus excavatum is the most common chest wall deformity and results from abnormal development of the sternum and its attachments. Most patients are self conscious about the defect and usually focus on its appearance but because this is usually present for much of a person’s life, symptoms associated with it may not be totally obvious. Individuals affected generally get used to how they feel and try to overcome any limitations to the best of their abilities without even knowing that’s what they are doing. Most patients describe some chest discomfort, shortness of breath when exerting themselves, lack of endurance, or feeling embarrassed in social situations when their shirt is off. It is not uncommon to hear patients say that they have trouble keeping up with their friends during activities, or that they avoid any activities that would require them to take off their shirt in public-such as going to a pool.
Most physicians aren’t even aware that there is an effective treatment for pectus excavatum...