Hiccups: Causes and cures

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Hiccups: Causes and cures

Question

What causes hiccups? Are there any proven cures?

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Answer

Almost everyone gets the hiccups from time to time. Hiccups typically are harmless and go away after a few minutes. Rarely, hiccups may persist for days or even weeks. When this occurs, they can interfere with eating and sleeping. In a few instances, persistent hiccups can be a sign of a serious underlying disorder.

Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of your diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. This involuntary contraction causes your vocal cords to close very briefly, which produces the characteristic sound of a hiccup.

Often, there may be no obvious cause for hiccups. But possible causes include:

  • Irritation to the nerves that control normal contractions of the diaphragm — such as due to eating hot or spicy foods or drinking carbonated liquids.
  • Eating a large meal. Hiccups are more likely to occur when your stomach is full.
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Sudden excitement or emotional stress

There is no one proven cure for the hiccups. Different things may work at different times and for different people. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the following hiccup remedies may be effective:

  • Holding your breath
  • Slowly drinking a cold glass of water
  • Breathing into a paper bag
  • Eating a spoonful of sugar
  • Having someone startle you
  • Gently massaging the back of the roof of your mouth with a cotton swab for a minute or so

If your hiccups last longer than 48 hours, consult your doctor. In some cases of prolonged hiccups, prescription medications may help.

Hiccups: What causes them

Illustration of what causes hiccups

Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of your diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. This involuntary contraction causes your vocal cords to close very briefly, which produces the characteristic sound of a hiccup.

Last Updated: 12/27/2005
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