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The sternum (also called the breast bone) is an important part of the thorax, the part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. Together with the ribs, the sternum protects all the vital organs inside the thoracic cavity.

This bone may be affected by various deformities, and one of those deformities is medically known as pectus carinatum, or more commonly called a protruding sternum. A protruding sternum represents a deformity which features with obvious protrusion of the sternum and the cartilage portion of the ribs.

What Causes a Protruding Sternum?

The deformity predominantly affects children, and in many cases the actual cause of the protruding sternum remains unknown. However, a protruding sternum may run in families; the condition has a tendency to be inherited. Statistics show that a 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. A protruding sternum may be associated with some other deformities such as scoliosis, in which the spine has an abnormal curvature.

Some people believe that a protruding sternum develops as a consequence of overgrowth of the rib cartilages. Furthermore, a 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 a Protruding Sternum

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

Treatment for a Protruding Sternum

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

Unfortunately, in case braces do not provide suitable results and the deformity remains, people with a protruding sternum may need to undergo a surgical correction of the sternum deformity. Surgery includes removing the rib cartilages. This type of surgery is known under the name Ravitch procedure. It is also performed in case of a sunken sternum (another sternum deformity). The procedure is always done under general anesthesia and patients remain hospitalized for approximately a week, before recovering and finding relief from symptoms they may have had as a result of the deformity.

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