Diaphragm spasms are involuntary contractions of the band of muscle that divides the upper abdomen and chest. They may feel like twitches and can occur with or without pain.

Diaphragm spasms can have a range of causes. In most cases, they do not pose a serious health risk, but they can cause discomfort.

Diaphragm flutter, also known as van Leeuwenhoek’s disease, is a different condition. 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 treatments for 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 result from stress, injury, exercise, and other causes.

A diaphragmatic flutter is a specific condition that involves unusual movements in the abdominal wall and breathing difficulty. 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, but they may experience:

  • chest pain or tightness
  • difficulty breathing
  • abdominal pain
  • heart palpitations

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

  • hiccups
  • back pain
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • difficulty swallowing
  • diaphragm paralysis
  • persistent coughing

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

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

  • inflammation of the brain, known as encephalitis
  • spinal and chest tumors
  • spasm in other muscles used for breathing
  • stroke

There are several potential causes of a diaphragm spasms.

Although the symptoms can be uncomfortable, they will usually pass within a few minutes.

Other possible causes include:

Injury

A sudden physical blow to the abdomen or chest may cause a spasm, for example, during a contact sport such as rugby or boxing.

Stress

Some people find they experience diaphragm spasms with stress, or that stress aggravates them.

Exercise

Exercise can cause a cramp or “stitch” in the abdomen. This may occur when people overexert themselves or have a difficult time performing their warmups. In some cases, the additional pressure from a stitch can trigger a diaphragm spasm.

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia is a condition in which 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 serious, 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 often panic or feel anxious if they cannot breathe, which can worsen symptoms.

The paralysis will quickly pass, however, and the individual can usually breathe again.

Phrenic nerve irritation

The phrenic nerve controls the movement of the diaphragm muscle. Irritation or injury to this nerve, or any inflammation, can trigger spasms in the diaphragm in addition to causing hiccups and breathing difficulties.

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

  • simultaneously swallowing and breathing air in
  • experiences overeating or eating spicy food
  • physical injury
  • surgical complications
  • cancer
  • noncancerous growths
  • autoimmune or neurological conditions
  • infection

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:

  • abdominal pain
  • heart palpitations
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain

They can worsen during the day and with stress.

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

  • inflammation of the brain, which is encephalitis
  • stroke
  • spinal and chest tumors

There is no standard treatment for diaphragmatic flutter yet, but doctors may try the following:

  • antiseizure medications
  • antipsychotic medications
  • diaphragm pacer stimulation
  • phrenic nerve crush, which involves stopping the diaphragm from moving by damaging one of the two main nerves that lead to it

It is possible to mistake the symptoms of diaphragm spasms as those of a gastrointestinal or heart problem, as they are similar. In most cases, symptoms will subside after a few minutes without the need for diagnosis by a doctor.

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 causes the spasms, they may use an X-ray, blood test, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, or manometry to help with the diagnosis.

Treatments for diaphragm spasms vary according to the underlying cause.

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

The following causes will require different treatments:

Exercise

Most diaphragm spasms that result from exercise will also go away without treatment. In cases when the spasms are persistent, it can help to stretch or put pressure on the surrounding muscles.

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

Hiatal hernia

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

If symptoms 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

The majority of diaphragm spasms are temporary and can go away within a few minutes. Specific body stretches, medications, and lifestyle changes may help to manage persistent symptoms.

If diaphragm spasms occur due to a health condition that requires medical attention, such as a hiatal hernia, phrenic nerve irritation, or diaphragmatic flutter, a doctor can help make a treatment plan for the individual.

Here are 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, acid reflux, eats spicy food, or 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 it may also indicate a lung, heart, muscle, or nerve problem.

A 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 they happen, but some people notice them after exercise, eating certain foods, or with stress. They may be symptoms of a hiatal hernia.

How can I stop diaphragmatic spasms?

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

Breathing exercises might also help calm diaphragm muscle spasms. If they are bothersome, a doctor may recommend antiseizure or other medications.

Diaphragm spams and flutters affect a muscle called the diaphragm, which is 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 with concerns about spasms or flutters in the chest or upper abdomen may want to consider getting medical advice.

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