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What Is a Chest Wall Deformity?

A chest wall deformity is an abnormality in the ribs, sternum (or breastbone), cartilage, and other tissues in your child’s chest. The chest wall protects vital organs like the heart and lungs and plays an important role in breathing and the movement of shoulders and arms. 

You may first notice a chest wall deformity when your child is 1–2 years old. The condition may be mild at first, but it can get worse as your child nears puberty. 

Our surgeons in the Utah Pectus Program have extensive experience diagnosing and performing chest wall reconstructions to correct these conditions. We can help you determine the best approach for your child’s needs. 

Types of Chest Wall Deformities

There are two primary types of chest wall deformities:

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Chest Wall Deformity Symptoms

Both types of chest wall deformities range from mild to severe. You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms may get worse during physical activity, and kids with chest wall deformities may tire more quickly during a normal day. The condition also puts children at risk of heart and lung damage, respiratory infections, and scoliosis.

While some children may not have physical symptoms, they may develop a poor body image or feel embarrassed by the appearance of their chests. 

Chest Wall Deformity Causes

Chest wall deformities happen when the cartilage that connects your child’s ribs grows unevenly. Pediatric specialists don’t fully understand what causes chest wall deformities. However, the condition sometimes runs in families, which suggests a genetic link. 

Chest Wall Deformity Diagnosis

Parents are usually the first people to notice a chest wall deformity. Then, your health care provider will conduct a physical exam to diagnose the condition. Your provider may also order a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) imaging to check the severity of the abnormality. Your child may also need tests to check their heart and lung function. 

Chest Wall Deformity Treatment

Your pediatric specialist will recommend a treatment based on the type and severity of your child’s abnormality. Some children may need to wear a custom chest-wall brace, while others need corrective surgery. However, if the condition does not cause your child physical or emotional problems, you may opt not to have treatment.

Chest Wall Reconstruction

You may notice a chest wall deformity when your child is young, but surgeons don’t generally operate until your child is older than 10. Since growth spurts may reverse surgical changes, pediatric surgeons prefer waiting until children stop growing so quickly.

Your surgeon will recommend one of two surgical procedures to reconstruct your child’s chest wall. Specific surgical procedures are available for children with pectus excavatum. Recovery times vary for these procedures. 

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

The Utah Pectus Program has Utah’s only board-certified pediatric surgeons. We are highly trained in chest wall reconstruction surgery and treat hundreds of children with these conditions each year. 

We offer services at three convenient locations: 

Schedule an Appointment

Your health insurance plan may cover an evaluation at U of U Health. Please contact your insurance company before your appointment to be sure.

Call 801-662-2950 or complete our online form to request an appointment. We welcome physician referrals, but you don’t need one to make an appointment with the Utah Pectus Program. 

Medical providers can refer patients to a pediatric surgeon by calling 801-213-3599 or completing our online referral form

How Can I Prepare My Child for Surgery?

No matter the surgery, preparing for an approaching surgery can be stressful and frightening for you and especially your child. But with some age-appropriate teaching, reassurances, and support--that fear and stress can evaporate.

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