Hiccups - Topic Overview
What are hiccups?
Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the
diaphragm, a large sheet of muscle that separates the
chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. This spasm causes an intake of breath
that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords (glottis). This
closure causes the characteristic "hiccup" sound.
What causes hiccups?
A very full stomach can cause bouts of hiccups that go away on
their own. A full stomach can be caused by:
- Eating too much food too
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Swallowing too much
- A sudden change in stomach temperature,
such as drinking a hot beverage and then a cold beverage.
stress or excitement.
How long do hiccups last?
Hiccups usually stop within a few minutes to a few hours.
Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are called persistent
hiccups. Hiccups that last longer than a month are called intractable hiccups.
While very rare, intractable hiccups can cause exhaustion, lack of sleep, and
weight loss. Both persistent and intractable hiccups may be a sign of a more
serious health problem and must be checked by a doctor.
There are many known causes of persistent or intractable hiccups,
- Central nervous system problems, such as cancer, infections, stroke, or
- Problems with the chemical processes that take place in the
body (metabolic problems), such as decreased kidney function or
- Irritation of the nerves in the head, neck, and
chest (vagus or phrenic nerve).
- Anesthesia or surgery.
- Mental health
How are hiccups treated?
Most bouts of hiccups go away on their own within a few minutes
to a few hours and do not require any treatment.
Many home remedies are used to treat hiccups. Most of them
involve increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which usually
stops hiccups. Some of these remedies include:
- Holding your breath and counting slowly to
- Breathing repeatedly into a paper bag for a limited period of
- Quickly drinking a glass of cold water.
- Eating a
teaspoon of sugar or honey.
The treatment for persistent or intractable hiccups depends on
the underlying cause of the hiccups and may range from medicine to acupuncture
or hypnosis. Sometimes several treatments may be tried before persistent or
intractable hiccups are controlled. If you have hiccups that last a few days or
longer, your doctor may conduct tests to rule out a more serious
Who is affected by hiccups?
Hiccups affect males more often than females. Hiccups
occur in practically every human being, including babies and older