While the main causes of a protruding sternum are unknown, many medical professionals suspect a genetic link. More common in boys than girls, the issue may show up fairly early in life, although 50% of cases are not caught until the patient hits puberty, often between 11 and 14 years of age. While many boys who suffer from this problem do not have fathers who had the same issue, there are enough family cases to warrant a belief that genes play a role, although the specific genetic make-up that may cause it has yet to be discovered and is likely to be complicated.
Also called pigeon chest, the sternum pushes forward in someone with this condition, usually skewing to the left, giving the child’s chest a puffed-up appearance. Children with a sternal protrusion might have trouble playing and exercising. They might also experience some pain where the protrusion occurs. Protruding sternums have been associated with congenital heart defects as well as connective tissue problems, so it is important to have them checked by a healthcare professional.
At the medical office, patients will often be diagnosed after a physical exam and breathing for the healthcare professional. He or she might also order X-rays to measure the depth of the chest since a larger than normal diameter is another indication of pigeon chest. Depending on the condition of the heart, a medical professional might also request that the patient undergo an electrocardiogram test or an echocardiogram test.
Often, a protruding sternum can be treated with a brace. The brace, worn at night, pushes against the sternum and cartilage, allowing it to move to a more normal position. In about 15% of cases, children with this condition also suffer from scoliosis, so a brace to correct the position of the spine may also be required.
In situations where a protruding sternum is an indication of other physiological or medical problems, other treatments may be necessary. Such related problems include Marfan syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder, and osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease. Sufferers of Marfan syndrome may need to take medication or undergo surgery, depending on the organ damage they suffer through the disease. To protect their joints and delicate organs, they may need to wear braces and make lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, there currently is no cure for this condition.
Patients suffering from brittle bone disease lack the collagen that helps make bones and connective tissues strong. Like Marfan syndrome, there is no cure for this disease, but patients can lead productive lives with treatment, including medications, bracing, and hormone therapy.