Phrenic nerve palsy can occur in the context of neonatal brachial plexus palsy, yet neither outcomes nor definitive treatment guidelines have been established. Diaphragmatic paralysis alone in the newborn results in significant respiratory sequelae and failure to thrive. Reviewing the available literature revealed little information about the incidence of phrenic nerve palsy associated with neonatal brachial plexus palsy, or whether outcomes are associated with the severity of the brachial plexus palsy. Of patients with brachial plexus palsy evaluated during 2005-2009 (n = 166) at our institution, a minority (2.4%; n = 4) had clinically significant diaphragmatic palsy. Of these, a majority (75%; n = 3) manifested respiratory complications sufficient to warrant diaphragmatic plication. The severity of brachial plexus palsy failed to correlate with severity of respiratory consequences. None of the patients underwent nerve repair or reconstruction. We suggest that diaphragmatic paralysis should not be overlooked during a brachial plexus examination, and diaphragmatic paralysis in the very young may require aggressive intervention before the treatment of brachial plexus palsy.
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