The symptoms of a diaphragm spasm include making a sudden gasping sound known as hiccuping and a slight tightening of the chest and throat just prior to making the characteristic hiccup sound. When the diaphragm spasms, the larynx and vocal cords suddenly close as air rushes into the lungs.
Diaphragm spasms are uncontrollable and repetitive; there is no way to anticipate them. Diaphragm spasms occur when the diaphragm contracts out of rhythm. The spasms generally start and end quickly for no apparent reason and usually last only a few minutes. Diaphragm spasms that last longer than 48 hours are categorized as persistent. If the spasms last longer than two months, they are categorized as intractable. Prolonged hiccups can disturb sleeping and eating patterns and can cause sleeplessness, exhaustion, malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration.
Some of the common causes of diaphragm spasms that last for only a short time include overeating, consuming alcohol, excitement, emotional stress and swallowing too much air. Injury or irritation to the phrenic or vagus nerve can cause diaphragm spasms that last for long periods. Other causes of long-lasting diaphragm spasms may be related to central nervous system damage. Medical procedures such bronchoscopy and tracheostomy can also cause persistent diaphragm spasms.