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What causes a paralyzed diaphragm?

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Quick Answer

Cedars-Sinai reveals that potential causes of a paralyzed diaphragm include cancer in the lung or lymph nodes, surgical trauma, spinal cord disorders, neuromuscular disorders, thyroid and other autoimmune diseases, and injury to the phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm. Birth trauma may injure the phrenic nerve in newborns, leading to a paralyzed diaphragm.

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Full Answer

Cedars-Sinai states that diaphragmatic paralysis is an uncommon diagnosis. Either one or both sides of the diaphragm, which is the muscle separating the thoracic and abdominal cavities, may become paralyzed. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, blue lips and fingers, fatigue and trouble sleeping, with more severe symptoms occurring when both sides of the diaphragm are paralyzed. Several methods are used to diagnose diaphragmatic paralysis, including pulmonary function testing, magnetic resonant imaging, chest X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds and blood tests.

Cedars-Sinai lists several treatment options for patients with a paralyzed diaphragm. A surgical procedure called diaphragmatic plication is sometimes performed. During this procedure, the diaphragm is pulled down, allowing it to move so it expands better and improves breathing. Devices called breathing pacemakers can be used to improve breathing and lower infection rates in patients who have a working phrenic nerve. Patients with life-threatening diaphragmatic paralysis sometimes require a tracheostomy, which is a surgical formation of an opening in the trachea, or windpipe.

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