Objective: Diaphragmatic palsy (DP) is a rare but severe complication after surgery for congenital heart disease. Transthoracic diaphragmatic plication is an effective means of treatment for those with respiratory impairment due to DP, but little is known about the mid-term effects of diaphragmatic plication.
Design: We performed a study in 24 patients with history of DP. Diaphragm movement was assessed using ultrasound. Patients with DP who were old enough were additionally followed-up with lung function and exercise testing. A group of patients with similar age, diagnoses and operations served as controls.
Results: Ultrasound showed that in the majority of cases with history of DP the paralysed diaphragm was static, independently of whether it was plicated or not. Patients with DP had a more restrictive lung function pattern (VC: 54.3 vs. 76.4% predicted, p<0.001; FEV(1): 58.4 vs. 86.2% predicted, p<0.001) and a lower exercise capacity compared with the control group (peak VO2: 24.5 vs. 31.3 ml/kg/min, p=0.03). Comparing patients with and without plication for DP, only a tendency towards lower lung function values in patients after diaphragmatic plication, but no differences regarding exercise capacity, could be found.
Conclusions: Our results provide evidence that DP is a serious surgical complication with a reduction in lung function and exercise capacity, even at mid-term follow-up; however, diaphragmatic plication, a useful tool in treating post-surgical DP in children with respiratory impairment, seems to be without mid-term risk in terms of recovery of phrenic nerve function, lung function values, and exercise capacity.