The aim of the present study was to evaluate diaphragmatic strength in patients with unilateral diaphragmatic paralysis and to determine whether patients with recent diaphragm paralysis develop lower inspiratory pressure than patients with longstanding diaphragmatic paralysis. Twenty patients (16 men and 4 women, 62+/-12 years) and six control subjects were included (4 men and 2 women, 53+/-15 years) in the study. Esophageal pressure during sharp sniff (Pes,sniff), bilateral cervical phrenic nerve magnetic stimulation (Pes,cms) and unilateral phrenic nerve stimulation (Pes,ums) (in nine patients) were measured. Sixteen patients presented right diaphragmatic paralysis and four, left diaphragmatic paralysis. Pes,sniff was higher in control subjects than in patients with diaphragmatic paralysis (respectively 110+/-22 cmH2O and 82+/-24 cmH2O, P<0.05). There was no difference in Pes,cms between patients with diaphragmatic paralysis and control subjects (14+/-7 cmH2O vs. 16+/-4 cmH2O; ns). Pes,ums after stimulation of the affected phrenic nerve was less than 4 cmH2O, was 8+/-2 cmH2O after stimulation of the intact phrenic nerve and was correlated to Pes,cms (R=0.87, P<0.01). There was a positive correlation between Pes,cms, Pes,ums of the intact hemidiaphragm, Pes,sniff and the time from the onset of symptoms and the diaphragmatic explorations (respectively R=0.86, P<0.0001; R=0.72, P<0.05; R=0.48, P<0.05). In conclusion, diaphragmatic strength after unilateral diaphragmatic paralysis seems to improve with time.