We studied respiratory mechanics and phrenic nerve and diaphragm function in 12 patients on the day before and eight to 13 days after coronary artery bypass grafting. The average vital capacity, functional residual capacity, and total lung capacity decreased by 20.5%, 9.5%, and 14.7% respectively after operation. Eleven patients showed less negative maximum inspiratory mouth pressures at any given lung volume after surgery and the magnitude of the change correlated with the reduction in total lung capacity. In 11 of the 12 patients the conduction times of the right and left phrenic nerves did not change substantially after operation and the ratio of inspiratory electrical activity (Edi) of left and right hemidiaphragms was similar before and after the procedure. One patient, however, showed a considerable increase in left phrenic nerve conduction time and a reduction in the left to right Edi ratio postoperatively. In three patients diaphragm function was also assessed by changes in transdiaphragmatic pressure during supramaximal phrenic nerve stimulation and voluntary increase in inspired volume; in none of the three patients did the transdiaphragmatic pressure swings show any significant change in the postoperative period. These data indicate that phrenic nerve paralysis only occasionally accounts for the postoperative loss of lung volume after coronary artery bypass grafting surgery. The mechanism of these abnormalities therefore remains to be determined.
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