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What Is the Life Expectancy for People with Pectus Carinatum?

Pectus carinatum, also known as pigeon chest, is a congenital condition that causes the sternum to protrude, giving the chest a bird-like appearance.

While it is a relatively rare condition, it can cause significant distress and anxiety for both patients and parents. It is important to understand the potential complications and outcomes associated with pectus carinatum, including its impact on life expectancy.

What Is Pectus Carinatum?

Pectus carinatum is a congenital abnormality of the chest wall, characterized by a protruding breastbone or sternum that can create a pigeon-like appearance. Although present from birth, it may not be noticeable until puberty. The condition is caused by excessive cartilage growth in the breastbone, pushing it forward and creating the characteristic outward bulge.

Pigeon chest can be caused by various factors and can vary in severity and presentation. Some patients may have associated syndromes or conditions such as Marfan syndrome or Noonan syndrome, while others may have isolated pectus carinatum.

While it is a relatively rare condition, affecting about 1 in 1500 people, it occurs more frequently in males than females at a ratio of 4 to 5 to 1. It is important for parents and individuals to understand the potential causes and effects of pectus carinatum.

With proper treatment, most children with pectus carinatum can lead a normal life.

Mild cases of pectus carinatum may not require treatment, while most children with the condition benefit from some form of treatment. The recommended treatment is usually bracing, which applies pressure to the chest area to encourage the cartilage to grow into the desired shape. Bracing is non-invasive and has minimal risk.

Surgery is another option, but it is generally more invasive and carries a higher risk, although it may have a more effective aesthetic outcome than bracing. Surgery is typically recommended as a first-line treatment only in severe cases of pectus carinatum. As a result, most children can lead a normal life after appropriate treatment.

Can Pectus Carinatum Shorten Your Child’s Life Expectancy?

In general, pectus carinatum is not expected to have a major impact on life expectancy. Mild cases of pectus carinatum usually have minimal effects on daily physical function and do not affect lifespan. However, in more severe cases, it can cause issues with heart function and breathing. Surgery is usually recommended for these cases, but it carries some risks and possible complications. Nonetheless, successful surgical treatment can help alleviate these symptoms.

If your child has pectus carinatum caused by another condition, it is important to distinguish the effects of pectus carinatum from those of the underlying condition. Although pectus carinatum itself is not life-threatening, the associated condition (e.g., trisomy 18, Morquio syndrome) may cause significant health problems and shorten life expectancy.

To sum up, pectus carinatum is unlikely to shorten your child’s life expectancy. Most people with isolated pectus carinatum can lead a normal and fulfilling life.

Issues Associated with Pectus Carinatum

Even mild to moderate cases of pectus carinatum can result in various side effects, such as poor posture, including hunched shoulders or constantly bending forward, scoliosis or kyphosis, persistent fatigue, shortness of breath, tachycardia (fast heart rate), and chest pain. Rib flaring is another common effect of pectus carinatum, which causes the lower ribs to stick out, contributing to breathing difficulties and poor posture.

Fortunately, orthotic bracing can be used to successfully treat rib flaring. Aside from these common physical issues, pectus carinatum can also lead to several psychological issues, which are explained further in the subsequent sections.

Psychological & Physical Effects of Pectus Carinatum

Pectus carinatum can have both physical and psychological effects on children and teenagers. Individuals with pectus carinatum can experience poor posture, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain, as well as rib flaring. Furthermore, they can feel self-conscious and socially isolated, which can lead to anxiety and depression. However, orthotic bracing or surgical interventions can improve body image and physical quality of life.

In severe cases, pectus carinatum can impact heart and lung function, and may even lead to asthmatic symptoms or recurrent sinus infections. However, with appropriate treatment, these issues can be successfully resolved, and life expectancy will not be significantly affected.


Interested in learning about bracing treatment for your child’s pectus carinatum? At Dakota Brace, we strive to offer high-quality and cost-effective treatment options for this condition. Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our healthcare experts and receive a $75 discount on your first order by clicking here.

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