Diaphragmatic dysfunction in neuralgic amyotrophy: an electrophysiologic evaluation of 16 patients presenting with dyspnea

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1993 Jan;147(1):66-71. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/147.1.66.


We report 16 adult men (age, 41 to 75 yr) with neuralgic amyotrophy (NA) who presented with dyspnea due to involvement of the diaphragm. All patients developed breathlessness after a prodrome of acute severe neck and shoulder pain. Bilateral diaphragm paralysis (BDP) was confirmed in 12 patients and unilateral diaphragm paralysis (UDP) in four by the absence of electrical and mechanical responses to percutaneous phrenic nerve stimulation. Global expiratory muscle strength was well preserved in all patients, but inspiratory muscle strength was reduced in proportion to the extent of diaphragmatic involvement. Lung function showed low lung volumes with preservation of carbon monoxide transfer coefficient in all patients. Two BDP patients were hypoxic (PaO2 = 67 and 54 mm Hg, respectively) on daytime arterial blood gas analysis; the latter patient with pre-existing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and marked obesity also had borderline hypercapnia (PaO2 = 49 mm Hg). Overnight sleep studies in three BDP and two UDP patients showed frequent intermittent arterial oxygen desaturations apparently caused by obstructive sleep apneas, but there was no evidence of alveolar hypoventilation. Follow-up muscle studies in five BDP and four UDP patients between 2 and 4 yr after initial referral showed complete recovery of diaphragmatic function in only two UDP patients, one of whom relapsed a year later. We postulate that NA may be an important but underrecognized cause of diaphragmatic paralysis in otherwise normal patients. Diaphragmatic strength returns very slowly, if at all.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brachial Plexus Neuritis / blood
  • Brachial Plexus Neuritis / complications*
  • Brachial Plexus Neuritis / physiopathology*
  • Diaphragm / physiopathology*
  • Dyspnea / etiology*
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Polysomnography
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Paralysis / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Paralysis / etiology*


  • Oxygen