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What Happens To Untreated Pectus Carinatum & When To Go To Doctor?

Pectus carinatum, known as chicken breast, is an unusual disfigurement of the chest that is not life-threatening, but the condition cannot be left untreated.1

The progressive cardiopulmonary consequences of untreated pectus carinatum are well-identified and require operative correction by professional surgeons in high volume centers.2

When you feel your child’s chest wall is not in a good posture you can check with your doctor to see if there is a protrusion of the breastbone.3,4

What Happens To Untreated Pectus Carinatum?

What Happens To Untreated Pectus Carinatum?

Pectus is also known as the chest wall comprises bones and muscles covered by skin. The chest wall is a vital organ responsible for protecting primary organs such as the heart, arteries and veins, lungs, and other vessels from injury. When there is a malformation in the chest wall it can affect the individual both medically and psychologically.

Though pectus carinatum is one of the rare conditions occurring 1 in 1000 patients in the United States some suspected risk can cause complications. The condition is typically characterized by the breastbone pushing outward giving a birdlike appearance.1

Pectus disorders are non-life-threatening and do not require treatment. But the distortion in the physical image can emotionally affect the individual. So, this abnormality is often diagnosed during infancy or childhood and treated immediately. However, in some instances, it is left untreated and needs to be repaired through orthotic braces or surgery during adulthood.

The untreated condition worsens with the growth spurt and can lead to congestion in the lungs or heart muscles which in turn causes shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, pain in the heart muscles, fatigue during physical exercises, and exhaustion.2

When To Go To Doctor For Pectus Carinatum?

The family should connect with a team of specialized pediatricians when their child faces symptoms related to difficulty breathing. If left untreated, it can result in unrelenting respirational difficulties, stunt growth, and development.

Chest wall compressions and decreased thoracic volume (Expiration during quiet breathing due to the movement of the diaphragm when the ribs and sternum elevate) plays a major part in the pectus carinatum. Furthermore, heart congestions may decrease stroke volume.

Similarly, people suffering from this condition are quite vulnerable to psychological issues especially in adolescents and young adults. This requires the importance of cosmetic procedures to alter the appearance.

Your doctor will use a chest x-ray to see the abnormality in the breastbone and measure the extent of protrusion using a specific analysis procedure. Also, the doctor may suggest a few non-invasive standard tests to determine heart function. This includes an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram to show heart and valve functions.

Based on the diagnosis, your doctor will determine whether this can be corrected through a brace or require surgery. Bracing can treat mild to moderate cases in young children whose body conditions are flexible and easy to be corrected. But some children cannot handle rigorous bracing procedures so doctors may recommend a surgical procedure.3,4

There are two types of pectus disorders, pectus carinatum (a genetic disorder of the chest wall in which a child’s breastbone protrudes outward abnormally) and pectus excavatum (an abnormal condition in which a person’s breastbone grows inward resulting in a “funnel chest” appearance). Most hospitals offer both surgical and non-surgical procedures to treat children and adults to correct the deformity.

Pectus is non-life-threatening however the deformity in the physical appearance significantly affects the child’s self-esteem and result in a reduced quality of life. In some cases, it can affect the individual’s lung and heart function.


  1. Winkens, Ron, et al. “Pectus Excavatum, Not Always as Harmless as It Seems.” BMJ Case Reports, BMJ Publishing Group, 2009, Types of Pectus Malformation www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3029481/
  2. “Pectus Malformation.” Pectus Malformation – Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Pectus excavatum: Not just a cosmetic concern ,www.brighamandwomens.org/lung-center/diseases-and-conditions/pectus-malformation
  3. “Pectus Carinatum: Diagnosis & Treatments: Boston Children’s Hospital.” Boston Childrens Hospital, www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/p/pectus-carinatum/testing-and-diagnosis
  4. “Pectus Carinatum (Pigeon Chest): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320836

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 15, 2022

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