Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm â the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. Each contraction is followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords, which produces the characteristic "hic" sound.
Hiccups may result from a large meal, alcoholic or carbonated beverages or sudden excitement. In some cases, hiccups may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. For most people, a bout of hiccups usually lasts only a few minutes. Rarely, hiccups may persist for months. This can result in weight loss and exhaustion.
Hiccupping is a symptom. It may sometimes be accompanied by a slight tightening sensation in your chest, abdomen or throat.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment to see your doctor if your hiccups last more than 48 hours or if they are so severe that they cause problems with eating, sleeping or breathing.
The most common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating too much
- Excitement or emotional stress
- Sudden temperature changes
- Swallowing air with chewing gum or sucking on candy
Hiccups that last more than 48 hours may be caused by a variety of factors, which can be grouped into the following categories.
Nerve damage or irritation
A cause of long-term hiccups is damage to or irritation of the vagus nerves or phrenic nerves, which serve the diaphragm muscle. Factors that may cause damage or irritation to these nerves include:
- A hair or something else in your ear touching your eardrum
- A tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Sore throat or laryngitis
Central nervous system disorders
A tumor or infection in your central nervous system or damage to your central nervous system as a result of trauma can disrupt your body's normal control of the hiccup reflex. Examples include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain injury
Metabolic disorders and drugs
Long-term hiccups can be triggered by:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney disease
During the physical exam, your doctor may perform a neurological exam to check your:
- Balance and coordination
- Muscle strength and tone
- Sight and sense of touch
If your doctor suspects an underlying medical condition may be causing your hiccups, he or she may recommend one or more of the following tests.
Samples of your blood may be checked for signs of:
- Kidney disease
These types of tests may be able to detect anatomical abnormalities that may be affecting the vagus nerve, phrenic nerve or diaphragm. Imaging tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- Computerized tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
These procedures utilize a thin, flexible tube containing a tiny camera, which is passed down your throat to check for problems in your esophagus or windpipe.
Prolonged hiccups may interfere with:
- Wound healing after surgery
When long-term hiccups don't respond to other remedies, alternative treatments, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, may be helpful.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although there's no certain way to stop hiccups, if you have a bout of hiccups that lasts longer than a few minutes, the following home remedies may provide relief, although they are unproven:
- Breathe into a paper bag
- Gargle with ice water
- Hold your breath
- Sip cold water
If you have chronic hiccups, lifestyle changes may help:
- Avoid carbonated beverages and gas-producing foods
- Eat smaller meals
Men are much more likely to develop long-term hiccups than are women. Other factors that may increase your risk of hiccups include:
- Mental or emotional issues. Anxiety, stress and excitement have been associated with some cases of short-term and long-term hiccups.
- Surgery. Some people develop hiccups after undergoing general anesthesia or after procedures that involve abdominal organs.
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