Paralyzed Diaphragm

The Significance Of A Paralyzed Diaphragm

A paralyzed diaphragm can result from a number of diseases, and can vary from a condition which shows mild symptoms or none at all, to situations in which respiratory failure and death could result.

Fortunately, in the case of a paralyzed diaphragm, there are a number of accessory muscles which contribute to respiration (breathing), which will take over the task of enabling air to pass in and out of the lungs. The danger however, is that these accessory muscles are not normally up to the task of doing all the work involved in breathing, and would eventually become too fatigued to enable normal breathing to continue.

The more serious instance of breathing problems encountered with a paralyzed diaphragm is when both sides of the diaphragm are involved, a condition referred to as bilateraldiaphragm paralysis, making the muscle essentially useless. In many instances however only one side of the diaphragm is involved. In such cases the condition is known as unilateral diaphragm paralysis, which is not nearly as serious. A person affected by unilateral diaphragm paralysis may experience nothing more than some shortness of breath, and may not even experience that symptom. In fact, any symptoms noted are often due to other lung disorders or diseases, which may be the true cause of the breathing problem. In cases of unilateral diaphragm paralysis the need for treatment is often not particularly urgent.

Anatomy Of The Diaphragm - The diaphragm is the major muscle controlling   breathing, it has a modified half-dome shape, and separates the thoracic cavity (the chest cavity and the second largest cavity in the body), from the abdominal cavity, the largest cavity in the body. The diaphragm, when contracted, decreases the pressure between the two pleura, the lining of the ling and the lining of the chest cavity, while expanding the rib cage, in other words, its contraction allows us to take in a breath. When there is an anatomic or neurological problem with the diaphragm which affects its ability to contract, the end result is that the pressure within the thoracic cavity is insufficient to allow the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs to receive a normal supply of oxygen. In the event of a totally paralyzed diaphragm, the alveoli would receive no oxygen if it were not for the work of the accessory muscles. The diaphragm is served by the phrenic nerve, which provides it with its sole neurological impulse. The phrenic nerve extends from the region of the neck down to the diaphragm, having a rather long course of travel. Although this nerve is protected by the spine and other tissues, any disorder which might disturb or otherwise affect it, could disrupt neurological impulses, affecting the function of the diaphragm.

Unilateral Paralysis Causes - The most common cause of a unilateral paralyzed diaphragm is a malignant lesion associated with lung cancer, which places pressure on the phrenic nerve. This is the case in roughly a third of those who suffer from unilateral paralysis. Other causes are trauma, often surgical trauma, and the herpes zoster virus. There are a number of cases of unilateral paralysis where the cause cannot be determined.

Bilateral Paralysis Causes - Insofar as bilateral paralysis is concerned, the cause is most often traceable to a motor neural disease, amyotrophic sclerosis, or polio. Instances of a paralyzed diaphragm, whether the paralysis is unilateral or bilateral, are quite rare in healthy individuals, since healthy individuals rarely have problems associated with the phrenic nerve. Initial symptoms, such as shortness of breath or headaches, can of course be attributed to any number of disorders, but if persistent, or steadily worsening, medical advice or assistance should always be sought.