Eleven patients with unilateral diaphragm paralysis of recent onset were studied to investigate the effect of the paralysis on inspiratory muscle function. Nine of the patients had noticed a decrease in exercise tolerance, which was not explained by any other pathological condition. Hemidiaphragm dysfunction was confirmed by the demonstration of a greatly reduced or absent transdiaphragmatic pressure on stimulation of the phrenic nerve in the neck, by means of surface bipolar electrodes (unilateral twitch Pdi), compared with normal values on the contralateral side. Transdiaphragmatic pressure was 44.6% (9.4%) predicted during a maximal sniff and 30.3% (16.8%) predicted during a maximal static inspiration against a closed airway, confirming diaphragm weakness. Maximum static inspiratory mouth pressures were also low (61.7% (12.7%) predicted), consistent with a reduction in inspiratory muscle capacity. Phrenic nerve conduction time was prolonged on the affected side in nine patients, consistent with phrenic nerve dysfunction, whereas on the unaffected side it was normal. It is concluded that recent hemidiaphragm paralysis causes a reduction in transdiaphragmatic pressure that is associated with a reduction in maximum inspiratory mouth pressure. Phrenic nerve stimulation is a useful technique with which to confirm and quantify hemidiaphragm dysfunction. Measurement of phrenic nerve conduction time provides useful information about the underlying pathology.
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