Clinical implications of phrenic nerve injury after pediatric cardiac surgery

J Pediatr Surg. 1996 Sep;31(9):1265-7. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3468(96)90247-x.


Phrenic nerve injury with resulting diaphragm paralysis occurred in 25 (1.5%) of 1,656 cardiac surgical procedures in children during a 10-year period. Phrenic nerve injury was most commonly noted in patients who had undergone previous cardiac surgery (16 of 165, 10%; P < .0001), typically after a previous Blalock-Taussig shunt (10 of 53, 19%; P = .007). Plication of the diaphragm (7 thoracic, 4 abdominal) was performed in 11 patients (44%). Indications for plication were inability to wean from mechanical ventilation (5 patients) and persistent or recurrent respiratory distress (6 patients). The patients who needed diaphragm plication were significantly younger than those who were managed conservatively (median, 11 months [4 days to 23 months] versus 20 months [4 months to 16 years]; P = .01). All patients older than 2 years were extubated within 3 days (mean, 1.5 days) and did not need any surgical intervention. The median follow-up period was 3.2 years, and no patient has had recurrent respiratory problems. There were no deaths as a direct result of phrenic nerve injury. Phrenic nerve injury after cardiac surgery is a serious complication that often leads to respiratory insufficiency in patients under than 2 years of age. For such patients, early diaphragm plication is a simple and effective procedure that prevents the complications of prolonged mechanical ventilation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diaphragm / surgery
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Phrenic Nerve / injuries*
  • Respiratory Paralysis / etiology*