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Explaining Pectus Excavatum

August 29, 2019
Helping children and teens with sunken chest syndrome

You may not have heard of pectus excavatum, which is also known as sunken chest syndrome, but it affects one in 500 children in the United States. Dr. Eric Jelin, Johns Hopkins Pediatric Surgeon at GBMC, talked with WMAR2 anchor Christian Schaffer about the symptoms of this condition and the treatments that can correct it.

“Pectus excavatum occurs when the cartilage between the ribs and sternum does not form properly, resulting in a depression of the sternum,” he explained. “The chest can look like there’s a bowl in the center of it. One-third of cases are diagnosed during the first year of life, but the majority of cases are diagnosed after children go through a growth spurt at puberty. In some cases, the child has no symptoms, but for some the condition can cause pain and discomfort, can make breathing more difficult, especially during exercise, and can compress the left side of the heart making it pump less efficiently.”

The condition, which affects more boys than girls, can be corrected with surgery, though not all children with pectus excavatum need to undergo the procedure. The goal of the surgery is to make the chest look and function as normally as possible. “We perform a minimally invasive surgery to insert a metal bar between the sternum and the mediastinum. That pops the sternum into the proper position. After two years, the bar is removed,” said Dr. Jelin. “We have a lot of experience performing this surgery and the prognosis is generally great. We have great resources and techniques that have been carefully honed over a number of years.”
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