- Clinical science
A diaphragmatic hernia is the protrusion of intra-abdominal contents through an abnormal opening in the diaphragm. Congenital diaphragmatic hernias (CDH) are a common developmental defect, resulting from an incomplete fusion of embryonic components of the diaphragm. Left-sided postero-lateral diaphragmatic defects (Bochdalek hernias) are the most common, followed by anterior defects (Morgagni hernias). About 50% of babies with CDH have additional congenital malformations. CDH are often diagnosed prenatally on routine antenatal ultrasound. Neonates with CDH present postnatally with respiratory distress and a characteristic absence of breath sounds in the ipsilateral chest. The respiratory distress is due to severe pulmonary hypoplasia, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), and poor surfactant production, all of which are typical characteristics of CDH. Postnatal diagnosis is confirmed on a chest x-ray which reveals abdominal contents in the thorax. Neonates with CDH should be medically stabilized (mechanical ventilation, inotropic support, gastric decompression) before surgical repair, which is then done within the first week of life. Also see our learning card “ ”.
- Incidence: one in 3000 live births
- ∼ 8% of major congenital anomalies
Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.
- The diaphragm consists of two parts:
- The peripheral muscular part: made up of radial muscle fibers
- A central tendinous part: a flat aponeurosis into which the peripheral muscle fibers converge and insert.
- Embryologically, the diaphragm is derived from four embryonic structures
- Septum transversum
- At the 5th week of gestation, pleuroperitoneal membranes form lateral to the central tendon, on either side.
- They fuse with the septum transversum and the mesentery of the esophagus to complete the partition between the pleural and peritoneal cavities.
- The left side fuses later, possibly explaining why most CDH are left-sided.
- Dorsal mesentery of the esophagus: develops into the diaphragmatic crura
- Mesoderm of the body wall: forms the peripheral rim of the diaphragm
- Impaired development and/or fusion of embryonic structures () → defect in the diaphragm persists during fetal development → displacement of abdominal contents into the pleural cavity → compression of lung tissue → pulmonary hypoplasia
- Failure of fusion of the septum transversum postero-laterally with the pleuroperitoneal membranes → Bochdalek hernia.
- Failure of fusion of the septum transversum anteriorly with the sternum and ribs → Morgagni hernia (Morgagni-Larrey hernia)
- The omentum, the colon, and the liver are common hernial contents.
- Central CDH
- Least common type
- Defect lies in the central tendinous portion of the diaphragm.
Because the liver protects the right hemidiaphragm, diaphragmatic hernias most commonly occur on the left side!
- Presentation depends on the degree of pulmonary hypoplasia and pulmonary hypertension Rare cases of CDH presenting in older children/adults have been reported.
- Respiratory distress (e.g., nasal flaring, tachypnea, cyanosis, intercostal retractions, grunting)
- Barrel-shaped chest, scaphoid abdomen, and auscultation of bowel sounds in the chest
- Absent breath sounds on the ipsilateral side
- Mediastinal shift: shift of heart sounds/apex beat to the right side
- Possible syndromic dysmorphism (e.g., craniofacial, spinal dysraphism, cardiac)
- Antenatal ultrasound: most cases are diagnosed on routine antenatal ultrasound
- Abdominal contents, air/fluid-filled bowel, and poorly aerated lung in the ipsilateral hemithorax
- Mediastinal shift to the right + compression of the contralateral lung
- In doubtful cases, a naso-gastric tube is inserted and a chest radiograph is taken: the feeding tube will be seen in the thorax.
- In right-sided CDH: the liver appears as an intrathoracic soft tissue mass + absence of the normal intra-abdominal liver shadow
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Avoid pleurocentesis in a suspected diaphragmatic hernia because of the risk of bowel perforation, which is suggested by bile in the chest tube!
- Congenital diaphragmatic eventration
- Clinical features
- Usually asymptomatic
- In some cases, failure to drain can cause airway compression with significant respiratory distress or recurrent respiratory tract infections
- Chest x-ray: discrete, round, and sharply defined fluid-filled densities
- Clinical features
- Congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation (CCAM)
- Pulmonary agenesis
- Tumors in the anterior/posterior mediastinum (e.g., teratomas, neurofibroma, pheochromocytoma, neuroblastoma, etc,)
- Pulmonary sequestration lung tissue which is not connected to the tracheobronchial tree.
- Postnatal CDH
The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.
- Prenatally diagnosed CDH: Antenatal glucocorticoids
Initial medical resuscitation
Correction of hypoxia
- Intubation + mechanical ventilation: indicated in all infants with CDH
- Extracorporeal life support (ECLS): A heart-lung bypass pump which circulates the infant's blood through an artificial lung and then back into the bloodstream.
- Gastric decompression: insertion of a nasogastric tube + continuous suction
- Inotropic support may be required to maintain blood pressure
- Surfactant administration: in infants born < 34 weeks of gestation and x-ray findings suggesting neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
- Correction of hypoxia
Surgical repair (thoracotomy or laparotomy)
- Indicated in all cases of CDH
- Timing: after the infant is stabilized, often after 24–48 hours
- Procedure: reduction of the hernial contents + primary closure of the defect
- Initial medical resuscitation
- Bowel complications: obstruction, strangulation, incarceration, ileus, ulceration, perforation
- Gastric inlet stenosis
We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.