|Myoclonic jerks may affect most muscles at once, as commonly occurs
when a person first falls asleep. They also may be confined to a single hand, a group of muscles in the upper arm or leg,
or even a group of facial muscles. Multifocal myoclonus is caused by a sudden lack of oxygen to the brain, certain types of
epilepsy, or degenerative late-life diseases.
If the myoclonic jerks are so severe that they require treatment, antiseizure
drugs such as clonazepam or valproic acid are sometimes helpful.
Hiccups, a form of myoclonus, are repeated spasms of the diaphragm (the
muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen), followed by quick, noisy closings of the glottis (the opening between the
vocal cords that checks the flow of air to the lungs).
Hiccups can develop when a stimulus triggers the nerves that contract the diaphragm.
The nerves involved may be those that lead to and from the diaphragm, or--because contraction of the diaphragm is responsible
for each breath--they may be the nerves leading to and from the area in the brain that controls breathing.
Most bouts of hiccups are harmless. They begin suddenly, usually without an obvious
cause, and they usually stop spontaneously after several seconds or minutes. Sometimes a bout of hiccups is triggered by swallowing
hot or irritating food or liquids.
Less common but more serious causes of hiccups include irritation of the diaphragm
from pneumonia, chest or stomach surgery, or harmful substances in the blood (such as those that build up when a person has
Rarely, hiccups develop when a brain tumor or stroke interferes with the breathing
center in the brain. These more serious disorders may lead to long bouts of hiccups that are very hard to stop.
Many home remedies have been used to cure hiccups. Almost all are based on the
fact that when carbon dioxide accumulates in the blood, hiccups generally stop.
Since holding the breath increases carbon dioxide in the blood, most cures for
hiccups require holding the breath. Breathing into a paper bag also raises carbon dioxide levels.
Because stimulating the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the stomach may
help, drinking water quickly or swallowing dry bread or crushed ice may stop the hiccups.
Gently pulling on the tongue and gently rubbing the eyeballs are other
ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. For most people with hiccups, any of these remedies will work.
Persistent hiccups require more intensive treatment. Several drugs have
been used with varying success; they include scopolamine, prochlorperazine, chlorpro-mazine, baclofen,metoclopramide, and
valproate. The very length of the list reflects the lack of consistent success.