We all have had hiccups and are well aware of them. But have you ever wondered why they occur? A hiccup is a sudden spasm of the muscle at the base of the lungs called diaphragm which is immediately followed by the sudden closure of the vocal cords. This produces a characteristic ‘hic’ sound. Hiccups that begin suddenly with no apparent reason and last usually for few minutes (self-limiting) are very common. Sometimes it may be due to certain underlying medical conditions but it is not quite common. Hiccups are not only confined to the adults but are also observed in infants and children. Here’s more about that “hic” you need to know.
What Causes Hiccups?
The exact cause of hiccups is not known but there are certain factors which can trigger it. The commonly observed ones are:
-A stomach full of food
-Eating too fast or overeating.
-Drinking too much alcohol.
-Swallowing too much of air (aerophagia) as when chewing food, gum or candy.
-A sudden change in temperature (both external or internal)
-Drinking a hot/cold beverage
-Emotional stress, excitement or heightened emotion.
-Drinking carbonated drinks or beverages.
There are certain medical conditions which can lead to hiccups. Some of these underlying conditions are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gallbladder disease, inflammation of the liver, pancreas, and heart, pregnancy, alcoholism, pneumonia and high urea levels in the blood.
Hiccup is usually a self-limited disorder; however, it is categorized into three types depending on how long you experience the bout.
Hiccup Bout: It is an episode of hiccups that lasts up to 48 hours.
Persistent Hiccup: Hiccups that continue for more than 48 hours, maybe for a month are termed as persistent hiccups.
Intractable Hiccup: If the hiccup lasts for more than two months it is called as Intractable hiccup.
Home remedies for hiccups are generally sufficient to resolve hiccups but if it is continuing for long as stated above, then you may need to consult your doctor.
How Do You Get Rid Of Hiccups?
Hiccups generally settle on their own and do not require medical treatment, however, if hiccups last for more than three hours or create a disturbance in eating or sleeping, you may consult your doctor. There are few commonly found simple home remedies that may help you relieve hiccups.
The commonly used home remedies for hiccups are the techniques that stimulate the nasopharynx, or the uppermost region of the throat which helps to relieve the hiccups. You may try any of these easy to do home remedies for hiccups (but not all of them at the same time).
-Hold your breath till 10 seconds or count till 10
-Drink a glass of cold water quickly
-Have sips of iced water
-Have someone frighten you as it is believed to stop the hiccups immediately
-Pulling hard on your tongue
-Bite on a lemon or have few drops of sour vinegar.
-Breathe into a paper bag to interrupt your normal breathing pattern
-Pinch your nostrils closed, keeping your mouth closed and trying to exhale (Valsalva maneuver)
-Gargle with water
-Drink from the far side of a glass
-Have some granulated sugar or honey
-Pull your knees towards your chest or lean forward, this helps counter the irritating diaphragm
-Rubbing or tapping on the back of the neck as it stimulates the skin that covers the spinal nerves
-Distracting your mind from the fact that you are having hiccups
Generally, these home remedies for hiccups can help in getting rid of it. But if these tricks fail or if the symptom persists for more than 3 hours then medical intervention is required.
When Should You See A Doctor?
-If hiccups continue for more than 48 hours without any effect of home remedies for hiccups, it is advisable to consult a doctor as there might be a need for medical treatment.
-A doctor will review your symptoms and look for any signs of chronic illness and neurological problems.
-No specific test is required in the diagnosis of hiccups, but in the case of persistent or intractable hiccups, investigations will be advised to detect any probable underlying illness.
-An X-ray and ultrasound of the abdomen might be advised to identify potential causes.
-Blood urea levels need to be assessed and urine/blood pregnancy test needs to be done.
Most of the times, hiccups are self-limiting and need no treatment. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to ease the symptom if it lasts over 48 hours or occurs repeatedly. After investigation doctor may prescribe drugs such as chlorpromazine, metoclopramide, haloperidol anticonvulsants, and gabapentin.
What Are Some Effective Ways To Avoid Hiccups?
The best way to avoid hiccups is by avoiding some of the common triggers. The common triggers that should be avoided to prevent its occurence are:
-Eating spicy foods
-Eating large meals
-Drinking too much alcohol
-Eating too fast
-Sudden temperature changes
-Speaking while eating
-Not chewing your food well
Watching out for the common triggers for hiccups and using home remedies for hiccups can alleviate the hiccup symptoms. Say goodbye to ‘hic’ or hiccups.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. Brañuelas Quiroga J, Urbano García J, Bolaños Guedes J. Hiccups: a common problem with some unusual causes and cures. Br J Gen Pract. 2016 Nov;66(652):584–586. Erratum in: Br J Gen Pract. 2017 Jan;67(654):13.
2. Mirijello A, Addolorato G, D’Angelo C, Ferrulli A, Vassallo G, Antonelli M, Leggio L, Landolfi R. Baclofen in the treatment of persistent hiccup: a case series. Int J Clin Pract. 2013 Sep;67(9):918-21.
3. Chang FY, Lu CL. Hiccup: mystery, nature and treatment. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012 Apr;18(2):123-30.
4. Woelk CJ. Managing hiccups. Can Fam Physician. 2011 Jun;57(6):672-5, e198-201.