Hiccups

Hiccups are caused by a sudden contraction of the muscles between the ribs and the muscle under your lungs (diaphragm). When you hiccup, the top of your windpipe (glottis) closes immediately after your diaphragm contracts. This makes the typical 'hic' sound. A hiccup is a reflex that you cannot stop. Unlike other reflexes such as coughing and sneezing, hiccups do not seem to have any useful purpose. There are 3 types of hiccups:

  • Benign bouts: last less than 48 hours.

  • Persistent: last more than 48 hours but less than 1 month.

  • Intractable: last more than 1 month.

CAUSES

Most people have bouts of hiccups from time to time. They start for no apparent reason, last a short while, and then stop. Sometimes they are due to:

  • A temporary swollen stomach caused by overeating or eating too fast, eating spicy foods, drinking fizzy drinks, or swallowing air.

  • A sudden change in temperature (very hot or cold foods or drinks, a cold shower).

  • Drinking alcohol or using tobacco.

There are no particular tests used to diagnose hiccups. Hiccups are usually considered harmless and do not point to a serious medical condition. However, there can be underlying medical problems that may cause hiccups, such as pneumonia, diabetes, metabolic problems, tumors, abdominal infections or injuries, and neurologic problems. You must follow up with your caregiver if your symptoms persist or become a frequent problem.

TREATMENT

  • Most cases need no treatment. A bout of benign hiccups usually does not last long.

  • Medicine is sometimes needed to stop persistent hiccups. Medicine may be given intravenously (IV) or by mouth.

  • Hypnosis or acupuncture may be suggested.

  • Surgery to affect the nerve that supplies the diaphragm may be tried in severe cases.

  • Treatment of an underlying cause is needed in some cases.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Popular remedies that may stop a bout of hiccups include:

  • Gargling ice water.

  • Swallowing granulated sugar.

  • Biting on a lemon.

  • Holding your breath, breathing fast, or breathing into a paper bag.

  • Bearing down.

  • Gasping after a sudden fright.

  • Pulling your tongue gently.

  • Distraction.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Hiccups last for more than 48 hours.

  • You are given medicine but your hiccups do not get better.

  • New symptoms show up.

  • You cannot sleep or eat due to the hiccups.

  • You have unexpected weight loss.

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.

  • You develop severe pain in your abdomen or other areas.

  • You develop numbness, tingling, or weakness.