Objective: There is still controversy about the feasibility and long-term outcome of surgical treatment of acquired diaphragm paralysis. We analyzed the long-term effects on pulmonary function and level of dyspnea after unilateral or bilateral diaphragm plication.
Methods: Between December 1996 and January 2006, 22 consecutive patients underwent diaphragm plication. Before surgery, spirometry in both seated and supine positions and a Baseline Dyspnea Index were assessed. The uncut diaphragm was plicated as tight as possible through a limited lateral thoracotomy. Patients with a follow-up exceeding 1 year (n=17) were invited for repeat spirometry and assessment of changes in dyspnea level using the Transition Dyspnea Index (TDI).
Results: Mean follow-up was 4.9 years (range 1.2-8.7). All spirometry variables showed significant improvement. Mean vital capacity (VC) in seated position improved from 70% (of predicted value) to 79% (p<00.03), and in supine position from 54% to 73% (p=0.03). Forced expiratory volume in 1s (FEV1) in supine position improved from 45% to 63% (p=0.02). Before surgery the mean decline in VC changing from seated to supine position was 32%. At follow-up this had improved to 9% (p=0.004). For FEV1 these values were 35% and 17%, respectively (p<0.02). TDI showed remarkable improvement of dyspnea (mean+5.69 points on a scale of -9 to +9).
Conclusion: Diaphragm plication for single- or double-sided diaphragm paralysis provides excellent long-term results. Most patients were severely disabled before surgery but could return to a more or less normal way of life afterwards.