What Is the Treatment for Phrenic Nerve Damage?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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The phrenic nerve is responsible for controlling the contraction of the diaphragm, which allows the lungs to take in and release air. Phrenic nerve damage often leads to deteriorating function of the diaphragm, which can lead to partial or complete paralysis of the muscle and, as a result, serious breathing problems. If the paralysis does not prevent a patient from breathing normally, it may be possible for the person to live normally, even with extensive damage to the nerve. Patients who experience breathing problems, however, may require emergency medical treatment or surgery.

Sudden, severe damage to the phrenic nerve can make it impossible for the diaphragm to contract on its own. In order to make sure that the patient can breathe, a breathing tube needs to be inserted, a process called intubation. Artificial respiration is then required. This type of nerve damage is most common as the result of certain heart surgeries or accident. It is possible for the damage to correct itself over time, though if a patient shows no sign of improvement, surgical treatment may be necessary.

In certain patients with phrenic nerve damage, installing a breathing pacemaker is one treatment option. This device, like a cardiac pacemaker, stimulates the regular contraction of the diaphragm through the use of a small electrical pulse. Patients must undergo training in order to adjust to life with the pacemaker. The device is not effective if a patient has damage in the intrathoracic part of the phrenic nerve.

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A procedure called a diaphragmatic plication can also be used to correct for this damage. During the surgery, the diaphragm is folded in on itself and sutured back together again. This tightens the diaphragm, making it work more efficiently.

In most cases, phrenic nerve damage causes a problem on only one side of the diaphragm. A patient with nerve damage on both sides can have each side repaired through plication or can undergo two separate surgeries a few weeks apart. This surgery is an effective treatment for adults with chronic nerve damage as well as for newborns with congenital defects. Damage caused by surgery or an accident is also often treated through plication.

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Sporkasia
Post 4

One of my college roommates was in an accident and the impact of her car crashing into a guardrail along the highway damaged her spine. She had to have several surgeries to correct the problems caused by the accident. The accident happened when she was a sophomore in high school, and by the time I met her she was a freshman in college.

To look at her you would never know she had a spine injury. The surgeries put her spine back in order. However, the tissue around one of her phrenic nerves was damaged during one of the surgeries, so her left or her right phrenic nerve (I don't remember which) had to do the work that both nerves would normally have been doing. Occasionally, she would have trouble catching her breath, but most of the time she had no symptoms.

mobilian33
Post 3

I have a neighbor who is about to start treatment for phrenic nerve damage. She has diabetes and one of her first questions to her doctor was if the diabetes might have been what lead to the damage. She was told that diabetes can cause this type of nerve damage, but there were other things that were more likely to have caused the damage in her case.

I think if you get your diabetes under control and keep it monitored and take the medicines to keep your blood sugar at the right readings then nerve damage is less of a concern.

Laotionne
Post 2

My mother has nerve damage in her legs that was most likely caused by her diabetes. We don't know how long she had the disease before she was diagnosed by a doctor and started getting treatment, but we think she had symptoms of the disease a long time before she was aware of what was going on.

The damage of the nerves causes her a lot of pain and some numbness, but hopefully she will be fine other than having to live with the pain, and she has a medicine she takes for that and it helps.

But what I am wondering is can diabetes cause phrenic nerve damage because this would be much more serious than what she is experiencing now.

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