Phrenic nerve stimulation is often considered to be difficult and unreliable. The time taken for the phrenic nerves to be located and adequately stimulated was measured in 110 subjects, aged 21-89 years, 26 of whom had diaphragmatic weakness; and phrenic nerve conduction time was recorded in 76 of these individuals. Each phrenic nerve was stimulated transcutaneously in the neck with square wave impulses 0.1 ms in duration at 1 Hz and 80-160 volts while diaphragmatic muscle action potentials were recorded with surface electrodes. The time taken to locate either phrenic nerve ranged from two seconds to 22 minutes (median 10s). Both nerves were located in 83 of the 84 control subjects (99%) and in 21 of the 26 patients with diaphragmatic weakness (81%). Mean (SD) phrenic nerve conduction time in the control subjects was 6.94 (0.77) ms on the right and 6.61 (0.77) ms on the left. A weak relationship was found between conduction time and the subjects' age and height. Four out of 24 patients with diaphragmatic weakness had a prolonged phrenic nerve conduction time. Transcutaneous stimulation of the phrenic nerves was not a time consuming procedure, and it was well tolerated, reproducible, and successful in 95% of subjects.
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