A graphic image of a nerve cell, representing the phrenic nerve.

The phrenic nerve plays an important role in sleep and health.

A variety of conditions can affect your breathing. This makes it hard to sleep and eventually leads to troubling issues. However, when one particular part of your body is damaged, your breathing truly suffers. That part of the body is called the phrenic nerve, and its time to find out why it is important.

What is the Phrenic Nerve?

The phrenic nerve controls voluntary and involuntary breathing. The latter occurs during sleep and helps people maintain a good night’s rest. The nerve starts in the neck and runs along the spine until it reaches the diaphragm. When the body needs to breathe, the brain sends information along this nerve, telling the diaphragm to contract.

This part of the body is crucial. When injured, the nerve ceases to function properly. Simple tasks become much harder and even worse, it affects your sleep. A phrenic nerve injury has been known to cause conditions like insomnia. Some patients find it hard to breathe while lying down, which explains their difficulties falling asleep.

Surgery is the Answer

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered some interesting facts about the phrenic nerve. They learned that the nerve can suffer from injury during surgery or due to neck cancers. This is why doctors must identify the nerve before performing surgery in that area. Otherwise, they risk harming a vital part of a patient’s body.

Another fact is that there are between 5,000 to 10,000 cases of phrenic nerve injury every year. Doctors perform reconstruction on the nerve in order to alleviate a patient’s breathing problems and fix the nerve. Over the course of 2.7 years, the researchers at UCLA followed 180 people after they were treated with phrenic nerve reconstruction.

The surgery seems to be the answer the condition, with about 89 percent showing positive results. This offers people the chance to breathe normally again and return to a stable quality of life.