Funnel chest, also known as pectus excavatum, is a congenital birth defect involving irregular development of the sternum and ribs. Individuals with this condition have anywhere from a slight indentation to a deep dent in the middle of the chest. It may not be noticeable in a young child, but the indentation can deepen during the growth spurts of adolescence. While funnel chest is not life-threatening, it can interfere with normal activities by restricting the heart and lungs. The condition can be corrected by surgical procedures that create new supports for the sternum. Funnel chest can lead to several common symptoms. Learn about them now.
Most of the symptoms of funnel chest are caused in severe cases where the deep indentation puts pressure on the heart and lungs, interfering with normal function. In this case, a common symptom is a rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations). Heart palpitations are usually not life-threatening, but they can be disconcerting for the individual experiencing them. The rapid heartbeat may make the patient feel out of control or anxious. They are often associated with emotional stress or a sudden increase in physical exertion. For patients with funnel chest, the heart is more likely to go into this mode due to the pressure of the sternum on the heart. The palpitations normally go away after a few minutes, after the patient calms down. If the palpitations continue for an extended period, the patient should contact a medical professional.
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Chest pain is a symptom that cannot be ignored. Recurring pain in the chest can point to serious problems with the heart. For individuals with severe funnel chest, this pain is often the result of the pressure on the lungs and heart caused by physical exertion. The lungs and heart cannot expand as much as they are able to in a normal chest. When the patient needs to breathe deeply, whether it is for exercise or for a productive cough, they may feel the pressure of the lungs trying to expand. As patients with funnel chest get older, they may become used to having regular pain in the chest. This may lead to dismissing or ignoring more serious signs of cardiac trouble.
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Lower Tolerance For Exercise
Patients with funnel chest generally have a lower tolerance for exercise. In minor cases of the condition, the reduced tolerance will be minimal. In more serious cases, the pressure of the rib cage on the lungs makes it difficult to take deep breaths. At lower levels of exertion, a patient might be able to overwork the diaphragm muscle to increase the volume of air. As the lungs work harder, they are unable to keep up with the demand for oxygen. The patient will need to take a break from the activity. Individuals with funnel chest may also refrain from exercise because they are self-conscious about their appearance. For example, young men with funnel chest may stay away from swimming because their chests are exposed.
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Frequent Respiratory Infections
Funnel chest can also lead to more frequent respiratory infections. The sunken chest squeezes and distorts the normal shape of the lungs, making them more prone to trapping irritants and bacteria. In addition, the body's natural responses to infection are compromised. It can be difficult for patients with funnel chest to take the deep breaths necessary for the productive coughing that can clear the lungs. In addition, the distorted shape of the lungs will make it difficult to clear them completely. Not only will infections be more frequents, but they will last longer. Patients with funnel chest may become more dependent on antibiotics as mucus caused by viral infections is trapped in the lung, becoming a breeding ground for secondary bacterial infections.
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It is not unusual for individuals with funnel chest to be diagnosed with a heart murmur. When a doctor listens to a patient's heart, a murmur is a sound heard in addition to the healthy 'lub-dub' of a normally beating heart. The murmur is heard between the beats, and it is the sound of turbulence in the blood flow. Most murmurs are not dangerous but can be signs of an impending problem. For the patient with funnel chest, the murmur is caused when the sunken sternum puts pressure on the pulmonary artery. If the condition is corrected with surgery, the pressure will be relieved, and the murmur will disappear.