Hiccups are a sound produced by an unintentional contractions of the diaphragm, followed by rapid closing of the vocal cords. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity.
Hiccups can develop when a stimulus triggers the nerves that contract the diaphragm. Air is then inhaled involuntarily. This lowers the diaphragm and allows bursts of air into the lungs. The air closes the vocal cords and creates the characteristic hiccup sound.
A healthcare professional may ask someone with continued hiccups a number of questions.
These might include: How often does the person gets hiccups?How long do the episodes last?Has the person recently eaten hot or spicy foods?Has the person recently had carbonated drinks?Has the person been exposed to any fumes?What has the person done to try to relieve the hiccups?What has worked to relieve hiccups in the past?Are there any other symptoms?Does the person have any other medical conditions?
The cause of the diaphragm contractions is unknown. The condition can be related to: nervousnessovereatingesophagitis, or irritation of the lining of the esophagusindigestiondrinking carbonated beveragespregnancydrinking alcohol
Sometimes hiccups are a complication of a condition, such as pneumonia. They may occur following chest or stomach surgery. A brain tumor or stroke can interfere with the breathing center in the brain and cause hiccups.
A person who is prone to hiccups should: eat more slowlyeat smaller portionsstop smoking, if he or she smokes
If hiccups continue for so long that the person visits a healthcare professional, a medical history and physical exam are done. Tests are not needed unless a disease or disorder is suspected as the cause.
Most bouts of hiccups are harmless. They begin suddenly, usually without any obvious cause, and usually stop after several seconds or minutes. Frequent, prolonged attacks of hiccups, which are extremely rare, may lead to severe exhaustion.
Hiccups are not contagious, and pose no risk to others.
Most of the remedies for the occasional bout of hiccups are based on altering the flow of air passing through the vocal cords. A person may be able to stop ordinary hiccups by breathing deeply or by holding his or her breath for a short time.
Slowly breathing into a paper bag may also be helpful, though it should only be attempted when another person is nearby, to prevent suffocation. Most cases of hiccups go away on their own.
Some natural or home remedies that are said to speed the process include: eating gingersquirting lemon juice to the back of the throatsucking on slices of fresh lemonsipping water and honeyswallowing a teaspoon of granulated sugar
Medical treatments are rarely needed. One of several medications may be used in cases of prolonged hiccups. These include: scopolamine (i.e., Scopace), prochlorperazine (i.e., Compazine), chlorpromazine (i.e., Thorazine), haloperidol (i.e., Haldol), phenytoin (i.e., Dilantin, Pehnytek), baclofen (i.e., Kemstro), metoclopramide (i.e., Reglan), nifedipine (i.e., Adalat, Procardia), amitriptyline (i.e., Elavil), gabapentin (i.e., Neurontin), and valproate (i.e., Depacon).
Side effects depend on the medication used, but may include dry mouth and allergic reaction.
The person can go back to usual activities after an ordinary bout of hiccups. If an underlying condition is causing the hiccups, it may need to be treated.
The person can monitor hiccups at home, and should tell the health care professional about any new or worsening symptoms.
Merck Manual Home Edition
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Natural Remedies, Norman Shealy
Take Care of Yourself, Donald Vickery and James Fries
Dr. Koop's Self-Care Advisor, Time-Life Medical, 1996