Diaphragm spasms feel like twitches in the area between the chest and the abdomen. They can occur with or without pain. Possible causes include an injury, nerve irritation, or a rare condition known as van Leeuwenhoek’s disease.

Diaphragm spasms are involuntary contractions of the band of muscle that divides the upper abdomen and chest. In most cases, they do not pose a serious health risk. However, they can cause discomfort.

Diaphragm flutter, also known as van Leeuwenhoek’s disease, differs from spasms. It is a rare neurological condition in which the muscles of the diaphragm contract rhythmically, causing pain and discomfort.

It is also possible for diaphragm spasms to indicate an underlying health condition. This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment of diaphragm spasms.

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A diaphragm spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction that can cause pain and tightness in the chest or upper abdominal area. It affects the ways the lungs expand and contract when breathing. It can occur due to stress, injury, exercise, and other causes.

A diaphragmatic flutter is a specific condition involving unusual abdominal wall movements and difficulty breathing. It is rare, and doctors do not yet know why it happens. There is currently no specific treatment.

The diaphragm is a muscle that acts as a partition between the upper abdomen and the chest. It plays a crucial role in the respiratory system by helping a person breathe.

The diaphragm contracts when a person breathes in, allowing the rib cage to expand so that oxygen can flow into the lungs. When they breathe out, it relaxes again to help push carbon dioxide out of the lungs.

The way a person experiences a diaphragm spasm can vary widely.

They may experience:

Depending on the cause of the diaphragm spasm, other symptoms may accompany it. These can include:

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause.

Doctors do not know yet what causes diaphragm spasms. However, they tend to link with:

There are several possible causes of diaphragm spasms, including:

  • stress
  • injury to the abdomen or chest
  • a “stitch” from exercise

Other potential causes include:

A hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia is when a part of the stomach moves up into the chest. Hiatal hernias occur when age, injury, or recent surgery weakens the muscle tissue in the diaphragm.

When a hiatal hernia occurs, part of the stomach pushes through an enlarged hiatal opening in the diaphragm. This can trigger a diaphragm spasm.

A hernia can be mild or severe, and its severity will determine any additional symptoms. The most severe cases require immediate medical attention as they can injure the stomach, cause bleeding, or interfere with breathing.

Temporary paralysis

A sudden blow to the abdomen can temporarily paralyze the diaphragm. This can lead to significant difficulties in breathing. A person may panic or feel anxious if they cannot breathe, which can worsen symptoms.

However, the paralysis will quickly pass in most cases, allowing the individual to breathe normally again.

Phrenic nerve irritation

The phrenic nerve controls the movement of the diaphragm muscle.

Irritation, injury, or any inflammation of this nerve can trigger spasms in the diaphragm, as well as causing hiccups and breathing difficulties.

A variety of factors or conditions can irritate the phrenic nerve, including:

Diaphragmatic flutter

Diaphragmatic flutter, also called van Leeuwenhoek’s disease, is a rare condition that involves rhythmic, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm.

Other symptoms can include:

They can worsen during the day and with stress.

Doctors do not know yet why it happens, but it can link with:

Although there is currently no standard treatment for diaphragmatic flutter, doctors may try the following:

It is possible to mistake the symptoms of diaphragm spasms for those of a gastrointestinal or heart problem, as they are similar. In most cases, the spasms will subside after a few minutes and will not need a diagnosis.

However, if a person has frequent diaphragm spasms without an apparent cause, it is important for them to get medical advice.

If the doctor suspects that an underlying medical condition is causing the spasms, they may use the following tests to help with diagnosis:

Treatments for diaphragm spasms vary according to the underlying cause.

Although diaphragm spasms resulting from a sudden blow may cause discomfort, symptoms typically subside within a few minutes, making treatment unnecessary. However, it is essential to rest and concentrate on maintaining a regular breathing pattern while symptoms persist.

Stopping spasms that occur due to the following causes will require different methods:


Most diaphragm spasms that result from exercise also go away without treatment. If the spasms are persistent, anecdotal evidence suggests it may help to stretch or put pressure on the surrounding muscles.

For example, gently pushing into the affected muscle using the fingers can help relieve discomfort. Holding one hand over the head can also help, as holding this position stretches the chest muscles.

Hiatal hernias

Doctors treat hiatal hernias in different ways, depending on their severity. In cases when symptoms are minimal, it can help to eat smaller, more frequent meals or take medication for gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Surgery may be necessary in more severe cases, especially if the hernia causes complications.

Phrenic nerve irritation

Treating the cause of phrenic nerve irritation can be a great way to restore a regular breathing pattern. The cause will determine the treatment plan.

If diaphragm spasms are severe, a doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • antiseizure medications
  • antipsychotic medications
  • procedures to try to control the movement of the diaphragm, such as a diaphragm pacer stimulation
  • surgery to stop the diaphragm moving, for example, by damaging one of the two main nerves that lead to it

Below are answers to some questions people may ask about spasms and flutters in the diaphragm.

Are stomach spasms the same as diaphragm spasms and flutters?

Stomach spasms relate specifically to the digestive process. They can happen if a person:

  • has an infection in their digestive tract
  • has acid reflux
  • eats spicy food
  • has dinner late at night

A diaphragm spasm occurs in the muscle that lies between the abdomen and the lungs. It can be due to digestive factors but may also indicate a lung, heart, muscle, or nerve problem.

Diaphragm flutter is a rare and specific condition. It is different from a spasm.

What are the risk factors for diaphragm spasms?

Doctors do not know exactly why these spasms happen. However, some people notice them after exercise, when they eat certain foods, or with stress. They may also be a symptom of a hiatal hernia.

How can I stop diaphragmatic spasms?

It depends on when the spasms happen. If a person experiences them after exercise, doing warmup stretches may help. If spasms occur after eating spicy food or a large meal, dietary changes may prevent them.

Breathing exercises might also help calm diaphragm muscle spasms. A doctor may recommend antiseizure or other medications if the spasms are bothersome.

How long does a diaphragm spasm last?

Most diaphragm spasms are temporary and go away within a few minutes.

If diaphragm spasms are more persistent over a longer period, this may be due to an underlying health condition. In this case, it is best for a person to consult a health professional.

Diaphragm spasms and flutters affect a muscle called the diaphragm in the upper abdomen, between the stomach and the lungs.

Diaphragm spasms are muscular spasms that can occur for various reasons, ranging from exercise to digestive problems. Diaphragmatic flutters refer to rhythmic contractions in the chest area. This is a rare and specific condition that scientists are currently working to understand better.

Anyone concerned about spasms or flutters in the chest or upper abdomen may want to seek medical advice.

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