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Despite the fact that the condition affects only around 0.06% of children, most people have heard about pectus carinatum, more commonly known as pigeon chest. But how much do you really know about it?

Today, we’re going to look at pigeon chest, see what causes it, and discuss how you can treat it.  

Quick Facts About Pigeon Chest

Pigeon chest is a chest wall deformity in which the child’s ribs and breastbone are visibly sticking out. The term “pectus carinatum” comes from Latin and roughly translates to “chest with a keel.” 

Other than pigeon chest, the condition is also known as “pyramidal chest,” “sternal kyphosis,” and “chicken breast.”

Unlike most deformities, pigeon breast is hard to notice at birth. What’s more, if the condition is mild, it may go unnoticed for the next couple of years. For most children, the chest only starts visibly sticking out at around the age of 10.

There are many different types of pigeon chest. However, the vast majority of children suffer from one of two types:

  • Pouter Pigeon Chest: The most common type of the condition, in which the middle and lower sternum portions stick out.
  • Keel Chest: Far less common than pouter pigeon chest, keel chest is a more serious condition, which means it’s harder to treat.  

Here are some quick facts about the condition:

What Causes Pigeon Chest?

The truth is, we’re still not sure about the exact cause of this condition. Nonetheless, some factors affect one’s chances of developing a pigeon chest:

1. Your Age
Age is the biggest factor when it comes to pigeon chest. If you haven’t developed the condition at an early age, chances are, you never will. Around 22% of pigeon chest patients are younger than 10

2. Your Genes
Genes also play a huge role in determining whether or not a patient is susceptible to the condition. In a vast majority of cases – between 25% and 33% – the patient has a family history of chest deformities.

3. Your Sex
Male children are more likely to suffer from pigeon chest than female ones. As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that the ratio of male to female pigeon chest sufferers is four to one.

Other than age, sex, and genetics, certain conditions could lead to pigeon chest development.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Abnormalities of the chromosomes
  • Various metabolic disorders
  • Brittle bone disease
  • Morquio syndrome
  • Noonan syndrome
  • Marfan syndrome

What are the Early Signs of Pigeon Chest?

One of the biggest problems with pigeon chest is that it’s so hard to detect. As most medical professionals will confirm, except for the chest slightly sticking out, most children suffering from the condition don’t show any symptoms at all.

However, there are some things your child may complain about if they’re suffering from a mild case of pigeon chest:

  • Feeling slight chest pain during physical activities
  • Experiencing a rapid heart rate even when they’re not physically active
  • Breath shortness during exercise and physical play
  • Suffering from respiratory infections throughout the year
  • Going through abnormal chest cavity growth

To diagnose the deformity, your doctor will have to monitor your child’s chest wall and breastbone growth. A pulmonary function test will be required if the patient is complaining about breathing problems and an electrocardiogram is required for patients who have heart problems.

An MRI or a CT scan is used only for serious cases, in which the doctor needs to know everything they can about the patient’s chest wall. The images will help the doctor plan an operation if a surgery is required. But as we established before, this rarely happens.

What Are the Options for Pigeon Chest Treatment?

A mild case of pigeon chest doesn’t require any treatment at all. In most cases, a child will be prescribed an orthotic treatment. That means the doctor will give the patient special orthotic equipment that will correct their chest wall. However, things were much different just a few decades ago.

In the past, surgery was the most common treatment. 

However, in recent years, doctors have discovered that these surgeries are far too risky for children under the age of 10. A chest brace for pectus carinatum is an orthotic that can help the most.

Around 72% of children treated with a chest compression brace don’t show any signs of pigeon chest after wearing it 20 hours a day for 6 months. The brace works simply: it puts light pressure on the chest wall and after a few months, it changes its position and shape.

In more serious cases, the child is required to wear the brace for a longer time. Sometimes, the treatment may take up to 24 months. Surgery is recommended only if the brace treatment fails and the child’s breast continues sticking out.

Final Thoughts

Pigeon chest might be a rare condition, however, it can be quite serious. Typically, it doesn’t lead to serious health problems, but if the breastbone is pushed too far out, the child might feel some severe symptoms including breath shortness, chest pain, and asthma.You need to discover it and treat it at an early stage if you want your child to be completely healthy. Make sure to contact a doctor and schedule a checkup if you ever notice something strange in your child’s posture. The problem will probably be solved in a couple of months using a chest brace for pigeon chest.

Just react quickly. Your child’s future may depend on it.

We hope we answered all of your questions about pectus carinatum. If you have any additional inquiries, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.  

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