How should I interpret an isolated elevated hemidiaphragm on chest x-ray?

In hospitalized patients, an elevated hemidiaphragm on chest x-ray is not a rare finding and is frequently asymptomatic. It has many potential causes, including lobar collapse or surgical resection of the lung, diaphragmatic eventration, distention of stomach or colon, or phrenic nerve paralysis (1).  Among patients with a paralyzed hemidiaphragm, damage to the phrenic nerve caused by surgery (e.g. cardiac), mediastinal tumors, cervical spine pathology, diabetes, autoimmune (e.g. vasculitis) and infectious causes (e.g. herpes zoster and polio viruses) are often cited as potential causes; most may be idiopathic, however (1,2,3). Chest x-ray has a high negative predictive value (93%) but a poor positive predictive value for diagnosis of hemidiaphragm paralysis (1).  When in doubt, the fluoroscopic “sniff” test should be used for confirmation.  

1. Chetta A, Rehman AK, Moxham J, et al. Chest radiography cannot predict diaphragm function. Resp Med 2005;99:39-44

2. Curtis J, Nawarawong W, Walls J, et al. Elevated hemidiaphragm after cardiac operations: incidence, prognosis, and relationship to the use of topical ice slush. Annals of Thoracic Surgery 1989;48:764-8.

3. Crausman RS, Summerhill EM, McCool FD. Idiopathic diaphragmatic paralysis: Bell’s palsy of the diaphragm? Lung 2009;187:153-157.

Contributed by Ethan Balgley, Harvard Medical Student


How should I interpret an isolated elevated hemidiaphragm on chest x-ray?

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