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A barrel chest refers to a naturally large ribcage, large lung capacity, a round torso, a sunken abdomen, and great upper body strength. The term refers to men with chests shaped like a barrel.

Barrel chests can occur in adults and children. The condition is most often observed in men.

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Men with barrel chests typically have a medical condition that causes distention of the upper torso and ribcage.

Causes of Barrel Chest

A barrel chest can indicate an underlying medical problem, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, or smoker’s cough.

Lung disorders cause the lungs to over-inflate with air as they work harder. This causes the ribcage to expand when a man exhales.

When the rib cage remains expanded it can cause breathing problems and shortness of breath because air is trapped in the lungs and can’t be fully expelled.

A barrel chest is a cause for concern if it is due to a chronic lung condition.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing (dry or productive)
  • Gasping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Air hunger
  • Inability to take a deep breath
  • Sore chest/ribs
  • Back pain
  • Low oxygen levels
  • High C02 levels
  • Difficulty walking or exercising
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Posture changes


There is no specific treatment for barrel chest. Doctors treat the underlying medical condition that causes it. In some cases, treating the underlying medical condition will improve the appearance of a barrel chest.

This has been your Medical Minute.