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The sternum (the breast bone) is an important part of the thorax and together with ribs it protects all the vital organs inside the thoracic cavity. This bone may be deformed and one of its deformities is medically known as pectus carinatum (protruding sternum). Protruding sternum represents a deformity which features with obvious protrusion of the sternum and the cartilage portion of the ribs.

What Causes Protruding Sternum?

The deformity predominantly affects children and in many cases the actual cause remains unknown. However, protruding sternum may run in families. This is why the condition has tendency to be inherited. Statistics show that protruding sternum affects more boys than girls and that it is in majority of patients first diagnosed after the age of 11. There may be a mild deformity which usually becomes worse as the child grows. Protruding sternum may be associated with some other deformities such as scoliosis.

Some believe that protruding sternum develops as a consequence of overgrowth of the rib cartilages. Furthermore, protruding sternum may be a sign of some other medical conditions such as costochondritis, Marfan syndrome, Sly syndrome, homocystinuria, Trisomy 18 or 21 etc.

Symptoms of Protruding Sternum

Patients suffering from protruding sternum may not complain about any symptom or develop any sign apart from the obvious chest deformity. However, severe deformity is generally associated with additional health problems and patients in whom protruding sternum develops as a part of other medical condition develop symptoms and signs of the very underlying condition. What is more, severe deformity may significantly interfere in respiration and apart from breathing issues cause low stamina and difficulty while performing strenuous physical activities.

Treatment for Protruding Sternum

Most cases of protruding sternum can be successfully treated with braces. This way more aggressive and invasive treatment (surgery) can be avoided.
A brace for protruding sternum is always made based on patient's measurements and the shape of the protrusion. It is constructed by a specialist. Patients need periodic adjustments as they grow. A brace is worn during the day and at night. The major effect of such treatment is gradual remodeling of the chest wall. It may take a year or a bit more to achieve desirable results.

Unfortunately, in case braces do not provide with suitable results and the deformity remains, one needs to undergo surgical correction. Surgery includes removing the rib cartilages. This type of surgery is known under the name Ravitch procedure. It is also performed in case of sunken sternum (another sternum deformity). The procedure is always done under general anesthesia and patients remain hospitalized for approximately a week.

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