Pectus excavatum (PE) is the most common chest wall malformation and one of the most frequent major congenital anomalies. The surgical repair of PE in childhood is a well-established procedure. Previously used operative techniques to correct PE were largely based on the Ravitch technique. Today, the minimally invasive repair (MIRPE) by Nuss is well established. Conservative treatment with the vacuum bell to elevate the funnel in patients with PE represents a potential alternative.
A suction cup is used to create a vacuum at the anterior chest wall. A patient-activated hand pump is used to reduce the pressure up to 15% below atmospheric pressure. Three different sizes of vacuum bell exist which are selected according to the individual patients age. When creating the vacuum, the lift of the sternum is obvious and remains for a different time period. The device should be used for a minimum of 30 min (2 per day), and may be used up to a maximum of several hours daily. Presently, a 12-15-month course of treatment is recommended. In addition, the device was used intraoperatively during the MIRPE procedure to enlarge the retrosternal space to ensure safer passage of the introducer in a few patients.
Thirty-four patients (31 males, 3 females), aged 6-52 years (median 17.8 years) used the vacuum bell for 1 to maximum 18 months (median 10.4 months). Follow-up included photography and clinical examination every 3 months. Computed tomographic scans showed that the device lifted the sternum and ribs immediately. In addition, this was confirmed thoracoscopically during the MIRPE procedure. After 3 months, an elevation of more than 1.5 cm was documented in 27 patients (79%). After 12 months, the sternum was lifted to a normal level in five patients (14.7%). Relevant side effects were not noted.
The vacuum bell has proved to be an alternative therapeutic option in selected patients with PE. The initial results proved to be dramatic, but long-term results are so far lacking, and further evaluation and follow-up studies are necessary. In addition, the method may assist the surgeon during the MIRPE procedure.