What is hiccups?
- A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary contraction (spasm) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
- Common causes of hiccups include eating too quickly, eating or drinking too much, diseases that irritate the nerves that control the diaphragm, abdominal surgery, strokes or brain tumors, noxious fumes, and certain medications.
- Most cases of hiccups resolve themselves in a short period of time and are rarely a medical emergency. See your doctor if hiccups last more than three hours, or if they disturb your eating or sleeping habits.
- Home remedies for hiccups include: holding your breath, drinking a glass of water quickly, pulling hard on your tongue, biting on a lemon, gargling with water, and using smelling salts.
- Rarely, a physician may prescribe medications such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), haloperidol (Haldol), and metoclopramide (Reglan) for severe, persistent hiccups.
- Avoid overeating, eating too quickly, or drinking too much to help prevent hiccups.
What are hiccups?
A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary contraction (spasm) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
Hiccups are often rhythmic. They are usually just a temporary minor annoyance, but prolonged hiccups may signal a major medical problem. The longest recorded hiccup attack is six decades!
Women and men tend to get hiccups equally as often, but hiccups that last more than 48 hours are more common in men. Hiccups can even occur in a fetus while still in utero.
What are the symptoms for hiccups?
Hiccupping is a symptom. It may sometimes be accompanied by a slight tightening sensation in your chest, abdomen or throat.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment to see your doctor if your Hiccups last more than 48 hours or if they are so severe that they cause problems with eating, sleeping or breathing.
What are the causes for hiccups?
The most common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating too much
- Excitement or emotional stress
- Sudden temperature changes
- Swallowing air with chewing gum or sucking on candy
Hiccups that last more than 48 hours may be caused by a variety of factors, which can be grouped into the following categories.
Nerve damage or irritation
A cause of long-term hiccups is damage to or irritation of the vagus nerves or phrenic nerves, which serve the diaphragm muscle. Factors that may cause damage or irritation to these nerves include:
- A hair or something else in your ear touching your eardrum
- A tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Sore throat or laryngitis
Central nervous system disorders
A tumor or infection in your central nervous system or damage to your central nervous system as a result of trauma can disrupt your body's normal control of the hiccup reflex. Examples include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain injury
Metabolic disorders and drugs
Long-term hiccups can be triggered by:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney disease
What are the treatments for hiccups?
Home Remedies for Hiccups
There are numerous home cures for hiccups. You can try these methods at home to get rid of hiccups:
Methods that cause the body to retain carbon dioxide, which is thought to relax the diaphragm and stop the spasms which cause the hiccups:
- Hold your breath
Techniques that stimulate the nasopharynx and the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the stomach, and can decrease hiccupping:
- Drink a glass of water quickly
- Have someone frighten you
- Pull hard on your tongue
- Bite on a lemon
- Gargle with water
- Drink from the far side of a glass
- Use smelling salts
- Place one-half teaspoon of dry sugar on the back of your tongue. (This process can be repeated three times at two-minute intervals. Use corn syrup, not sugar, for young children.)
Most hiccups will stop on their own. Home remedies are generally sufficient to resolve hiccupping.
For persistent hiccups (lasting more than three hours) treatment varies.
A physician may prescribe medications for severe, chronic hiccups. Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) is usually the first-line medication prescribed for hiccups. Other medications used to treat hiccups include haloperidol (Haldol) and metoclopramide (Reglan).
Some muscle relaxants, sedatives, analgesics, and even stimulants have also been reported to help alleviate hiccup symptoms.
Phrenic nerve surgery (the nerve that controls the diaphragm) is a treatment of last resort. This treatment is rarely performed and used only in cases that do not respond to other treatments.
When should I contact my doctor for hiccups?
Most cases of hiccups resolve themselves in a short period of time and are rarely a medical emergency. See your doctor if hiccups last more than three hours, or if they disturb your eating or sleeping habits.
What are the risk factors for hiccups?
Men are much more likely to develop long-term hiccups than are women. Other factors that may increase your risk of hiccups include:
- Mental or emotional issues. Anxiety, stress and excitement have been associated with some cases of short-term and long-term hiccups.
- Surgery. Some people develop hiccups after undergoing general anesthesia or after procedures that involve abdominal organs.