Pectus carinatum (pigeon chest): What is it/symptoms?

Pectus carinatum occurs when the cartilage, the bones of the sternum (breastbone) and ribs do not properly form. As a result, the chest becomes abnormally pushed outward. Pigeon chest often goes unnoticed until puberty, when rapid growth and development may intensify the appearance of the defect.

Symptoms are less frequent with pigeon chest than with pectus excavatum and many patients will not require surgical correction. When symptoms are present, patients may experience pain in the chest, ribs and back as well as shortness of breath. There may also be a psychological or social impact if the patient is concerned about the appearance of his/her chest wall.

How is pectus carinatum (pigeon chest) diagnosed?

Our patients go through a series of diagnostic testing, including:

  • A chest X-ray (or CT chest scan) to evaluate the extent of the pectus defect and the internal chest anatomy and structure
  • Metal allergy testing for bar placement that's used in certain treatments, performed in collaboration with our pedatric dermatology team (Patients with a allergy to nickel will require a special type of bar be placed.)

How is pectus carinatum (pigeon chest) treated?

Treatment options include chest-wall bracing and/or surgery. Many patients with mild or moderate cases of pectus carinatum experience success with advanced chest-wall braces. Adolescents with more severe or refractory cases of pectus carinatum may require a modified Ravitch surgical repair.