Injury to the phrenic nerve can paralyze the diaphragm and have a serious impact on the regulation of breathing, such as difficulty during inhalation, according to the UCLA Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. The phrenic nerve is responsible for the function of the diaphragm.
When the diaphragm contracts, it allows the chest to expand, which in turn fills the lungs with air. Injury to the phrenic nerve frequently occurs during chest and neck surgeries, such as coronary artery bypass graft placement and carotid endarterectomy, according to the UCLA Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.
Injuries to the phrenic nerve also occur in neonates during a traumatic delivery, notes the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This occurs after lateral hyperextension of the neck when trying to deliver the child and can be an important differential diagnosis for respiratory distress and abnormality in a newborn. The risk factors for this injury include the use of forceps during delivery and breach presentation.
Nerve decompression and transplant are procedures that have been helpful in reversing diaphragmatic paralysis. Because injury to the phrenic nerve is so rare, it is often difficult for patients to find adequate care and complete resolution of nerve damage, according to the UCLA Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.