In Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) the assessment of diaphragmatic function is crucial because respiratory muscle weakness can cause respiratory failure. We aimed to noninvasively assess diaphragmatic function in DMD by measuring diaphragmatic thickness by ultrasonography, under the hypothesis that the progressive decrease of lung function is related to alterations of diaphragmatic thickness.
Forty-four DMD patients and thirteen healthy controls were enrolled and subdivided into three age groups. Diaphragmatic thickness was measured during quiet breathing, inspiratory capacity, maximal inspiratory pressure and expiratory pressure maneuvers.
In DMD, absolute values of diaphragmatic thickness were significantly lower than in controls in the majority of the manoeuvers and diaphragmatic thickness significantly decreased with age at end-expiration, remaining constant at end-inspiration and during maximal inspiratory pressure maneuvers. Comparing to controls, absolute values of diaphragmatic thickness and diaphragmatic thickness variations were significantly lower (p less than 0.001), with the exception of quiet breathing and maximal expiratory pressure maneuvers in the youngest DMD. During maximal inspiratory pressure maneuver, variation of diaphragmatic thickness was
not significantly different in the all groups, nevertheless maximal inspiratory pressure decreases with age.
The diaphragm is prone to pseudo-hypertrophy in the youngest DMD, and to progressive atrophy in middle-age and oldest DMD. Diaphragm impairment could be expressed as a dissociation between muscle drive and muscle developed force. Ultrasonography could be
used as a noninvasive method to assess progressive diaphragmatic weakness.