Effect of hypophosphatemia on diaphragmatic contractility in patients with acute respiratory failure

N Engl J Med. 1985 Aug 15;313(7):420-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198508153130705.


We studied the effects of hypophosphatemia on diaphragmatic function in eight patients with acute respiratory failure who were artificially ventilated. Their mean serum phosphorus level was 0.55 +/- 0.18 mmol per liter (normal value, 1.20 +/- 0.10). The contractile properties of the diaphragm were assessed by measuring the transdiaphragmatic pressure generated at functional residual capacity during bilateral supramaximal electrical stimulation of the phrenic nerves. Diaphragmatic function was evaluated in each patient before and after correction of hypophosphatemia, which was achieved by administration of 10 mmol of phosphorus (as KH2PO4) as a continuous infusion for four hours. After phosphate infusion, the mean serum phosphorus level increased significantly (1.33 +/- 0.21 mmol per liter, P less than 0.0001). The increase in serum phosphorus was accompanied by a marked increase in the transdiaphragmatic pressure after phrenic stimulation (17.25 +/- 6.5 cm H2O as compared with 9.75 +/- 3.8 before phosphate infusion, P less than 0.001). Changes in the serum phosphorus level and transdiaphragmatic pressure were well correlated (r = 0.73). These results strongly suggest that hypophosphatemia impairs the contractile properties of the diaphragm during acute respiratory failure, and they emphasize the importance of maintaining normal serum inorganic phosphate levels in such patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Diaphragm / physiopathology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Phosphates / blood*
  • Phosphates / therapeutic use
  • Phosphorus / deficiency
  • Phrenic Nerve / physiology
  • Pressure
  • Respiration
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / blood*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Ventilators, Mechanical


  • Phosphates
  • Phosphorus