The diaphragm (DI-a-fram) has become a household word for many women who use a very effective device to prevent pregnancies.
Women, remember that it does not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea (which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease), syphilis or the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.
However, there is another diaphragm that is found naturally in the body. It is a muscular apron that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. It is in constant movement as we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. This diaphragm is a complicated structure with an extensive nerve network.
If gas accumulates in the stomach or large bowel, the diaphragm is pushed up into the chest, making breathing difficult. If there is an infection in the lungs, the diaphragm can be pushed into the abdominal cavity, causing distension (bloating). If there is a defect or congenital false opening in the diaphragm, the stomach may sometimes slip up into the chest cavity (hiatal hernia), which may cause heartburn and discomfort.
When the diaphragm is irritated, a common condition known as “hiccups” occurs. Spontaneous and chronic hiccups cause much discomfort for many people. To control them, drugs such as Thorazine, Dilantin and other nerve-calming medications may be prescribed. Hiccups have been attacked by inhaling and exhaling into a brown paper bag. Why the bag must be brown, I’ll never know. It is thought that the inhaled carbon dioxide, which builds up in the bag, causes the cessation of the hiccups.
Another maneuver, drinking gulps of water while holding one’s breath, is also a favorite remedy for this miserable condition. Patients have also been known to do headstands to quell hiccups. However, I do not prescribe this maneuver for alcoholics who have this characteristic symptom.
I was called during my practice to the home of a patient who had hiccups for a week. During this period, she was unable to eat, drink or sleep. Her physical condition showed that she was really suffering. She had tried all of the recommended remedies suggested by family and friends to no avail.
Reaching into my bag of tricks of old proven remedies, I suggested that she do the following. First, I told her to sit comfortably on the side of her bed with feet flat on the floor. She was then told to raise her arms above her head and stretch. While keeping her feet flat on the floor, she was told to take a deep breath and, while holding it, lean backwards until her back was on the bed, maintaining her arms in stretching position. After a few of these exercises, which stretch the diaphragm, the patient was finally relieved of her hiccups.