Pulmonary function has been extensively studied in unilateral diaphragmatic paralysis (UDP), but there is scarce information regarding inspiratory muscle function in this condition. We therefore studied inspiratory muscle function in 8 patients with UDP (Group 1: age 48.3 +/- 2.1 yr of age, means +/- SD) as well as in 7 patients with UDP and concomitant cardiopulmonary disease (Group 2: 60.6 +/- 13 yr of age). Twelve young normal subjects were also studied (32.3 +/- 7.7 yr of age). Maximal static transdiaphragmatic and inspiratory mouth pressure were measured at FRC. Gastric (Pga), esophageal (Pes), and transdiaphragmatic (Pdi) pressure swings were measured during quiet breathing. There was no difference in inspiratory muscle function in left-sided versus right-sided UDP. Paradoxical gastric pressure swings were observed in 4 patients from Group 1 and in 5 from Group 2. In 2 patients from Group 1 and 1 from Group 2, Pga did not change during quiet breathing. In the remaining 3 patients, Pga swings were similar to those observed in the normal subjects. Maximal Pdi was reduced in half of the patients from Group 1 and in all of the patients from Group 2. Maximal inspiratory pressure was below normal values in 2 patients from Group 1 and in all patients from Group 2. We conclude that unilateral diaphragmatic paralysis is associated with an abnormal pattern of use of respiratory muscles during quiet breathing, characterized by the use of intercostal and accessory inspiratory muscle or compensatory use of abdominal expiratory muscles. Inspiratory muscle strength was impaired in some of the patients, and it worsened when cardiopulmonary disease was present.