Barrel Chest – Overview and More


A barrel chest is a rounded, convex chest that resembles a barrel. Although not technically a medical term, healthcare providers often use a barrel chest to describe physical characteristics consistent with cases of advanced emphysema in which the chest can be fixed in an open position. A barrel chest can also occur with cystic fibrosis , severe asthma, and other health problems.

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images


A barrel chest is generally not painful. This is a sign of a serious underlying disease or damage to the lungs, so symptoms are usually associated with the cause.

Symptoms and signs that are often associated with barrel breasts include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rigidity
  • Decreased oxygen saturation.
  • High levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
  • Limited ability to exercise
  • Posture changes


A barrel-shaped chest occurs when the lungs are chronically over-inflated (hyper-inflated) with air, causing the chest to remain dilated for long periods.

Over time, the expansion of the chest will affect the anterior chest wall (facing forward) and the posterior wall (facing backward). As muscle atrophy develops, which is often seen in advanced emphysema, the loss of external support further leads to deformity.

Lung damage and lung disease are typical causes of chest stem cells in adults, but there are also genetic, environmental, and aging-related factors, many of which are not completely reversible. The exception is children with cystic fibrosis or severe asthma; in these cases, the chest wall may be somewhat reversible.


Emphysema is one of the two diseases that make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) . It is usually accompanied by chronic bronchitis , an inflammatory condition characterized by narrowing of the airways and excessive mucus secretion.

Emphysema, in particular, refers to the destruction of the alveoli , the small air sacs in the lungs at the end of the airways, through which oxygen is transferred to the blood and carbon dioxide is exhaled.

As fewer and fewer alveoli are available to facilitate gas exchange, the lungs have to work harder and breathe more deeply and for longer. As the disease progresses, the lungs tend to remain hyperinflated, leaving the chest dilated.


Osteoarthritis, also known as "wear and tear arthritis," often affects the arms, neck, lower back, knees, and hips.

It can also cause progressive damage to the bones and cartilage of the back and chest. A condition called thoracic arthritis is caused by degeneration of the cartilage and bones of the middle spine. As the joint bones begin to shrink and rub against each other, subsequent inflammation can lead to a gradual deformity of the spine.

The rib cage can take on an enlarged, barrel-shaped appearance, which can eventually become permanent if the joint bones heal in this position.

Low calcium levels can further aggravate the problem, causing a deformity of the sternum and a condition known as dorsal kyphosis , in which the back becomes round and hunched.

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis often causes a barrel-shaped chest in children and young adults with the condition. This inherited genetic disorder causes excessive mucus production, clogging the alveoli and limiting the amount of air that enters the lungs.

Over time, the tension needed to fill the lungs can trap air, leaving the chest in a partially inflated position. As a chronic and irreversible disease, cystic fibrosis requires constant monitoring to help clear the lungs and prevent hyperinflation.

Severe asthma

Severe asthma is a common cause of a barrel chest in children. In asthma, the airways narrow and narrow.

In severe asthma symptoms, a persistently narrow airway (in some cases it persists even after using bronchodilators ) can trap air in the lungs. When air enters the lungs, a baby's chest may be barrel-shaped, in part because the cartilage in the chest is still very flexible.

Genetic diseases

There are rare genetic disorders that are characterized by barrel-shaped chests.

  • Diggwe-Melchior-Clausen syndrome (CMD) is a rare and progressive disease characterized by short stature, skeletal deformities, and microcephaly (abnormally small head). CMD is so rare that only about 100 cases have been reported.
  • Sialidosis , also known as type 2 mucolipidosis, is another rare condition. It is characterized by an abnormal accumulation of certain toxic substances in the body. Symptoms usually develop in infancy or late childhood and may include short stature, barrel-shaped breasts, mild cognitive impairment, and cherry-red spots in the eyes.
  • Late spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia is a rare inherited disease. Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 6 and 10 and include short stature, spinal deformity, barrel chest, and premature osteoarthritis.

Any malformation of the skeleton resulting from these disorders is considered permanent.


A cask chest is a visible consequence of disease, so your doctor will be able to detect it during a physical exam.

You may also have lung function tests (such as spirometry) and blood tests (such as CBC and arterial blood gases) to assess how well your lungs are working.

Since a barrel chest is not a disease in and of itself, your doctor will attempt to determine the underlying condition causing it.

Watch out

The main goals of treatment are to control symptoms and prevent further progression. Treatment will depend on the cause of the barrel chest, but it is important to reduce inflammation and improve breathing.

In the case of emphysema and osteoarthritis, symptom control with diet and light exercise, medication, and pulmonary rehabilitation can reduce the appearance of a barrel chest, but these treatments cannot completely eliminate it.

Because COPD is a progressive disease, no damage to the lungs, chest, or sternum can be repaired.

Cystic fibrosis also affects lung development, in part due to repeated bouts of bacterial infection. As lung capacity declines, the cask chest deteriorates and cannot be repaired. This is especially true for adults with cystic fibrosis.

A barrel chest in children with asthma usually goes away once the symptoms are controlled.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a barrel chest?

A barrel chest is a deformity in which the rib cage becomes enlarged due to disease.

What Causes a Cask Chest?

Lung disease or osteoarthritis that causes the rib cage to over-expand or stay in an over-expanded position can lead to a barrel-shaped chest.

What does a barrel chest look like?

A barrel chest makes a person's chest round and enlarged from front to back, from the lower neck to the upper abdomen. It may appear that someone is taking a deep breath and holding their breath.

What disease is the breast stem causing?

Lung diseases, including emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and asthma, can cause a barrel chest. When osteoarthritis affects the bones of the chest and mid-spine, a barrel-shaped chest can develop.

How are ribs affected by a barrel chest?

The ribs can grow together in a constantly expanding position, as if the person is breathing deeply.

Do people with COPD have a chest on tap?

Yes, emphysema, a type of COPD, is a common cause of thoracic stem cells. Emphysema causes a destructive lung disease in which air becomes trapped in the lungs, leaving the lungs and surrounding bones in an over-expanded position.

Get the word of drug information

A barrel chest is a clinical sign of several different diseases. It usually appears during the later stages of diseases such as emphysema and should be considered as a possible indication of serious lung damage. While the condition itself is often irreversible, it's important to work with your healthcare provider to find ways to manage your symptoms and make breathing a little easier.

Related Articles
Choosing foods to diet after a heart attack

All cardiovascular specialists agree that a healthy diet is important to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (CHD) Read more

Different types of hysterectomies.

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of a woman's uterus . Hysterectomy is usually done Read more

Esthetician: experience, specialties and training

An esthetician is a person who specializes in cosmetic skin care. Cosmetologists (sometimes called estheticians ) are not medical Read more

Benefits, Side Effects, Dosages, and Interactions.

CBD oil is an extract from Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa , the same plants that produce marijuana when Read more