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Overview of Hiccups

Hiccups are sudden, involuntary spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles.1 Irritation of the nerves from the neck to the chest can cause hiccups. When these nerves are triggered, a signal is sent to the nerve, which controls the diaphragm. The diaphragm signals back to the hiccup center in the brain. Within a second, a structure called the glottis closes off the windpipe, leading to a rapid reduction in intrathoracic pressure, thereby producing the characteristic sound of a hiccup. Although common and usually benign, hiccups can be an extremely uncomfortable disease.2

Hiccups start suddenly, usually last for a few minutes and stop on their own. However, hiccups can sometimes be a serious medical problem due to their chronicity and underlying causes.3 Several serious underlying diseases such as brain infection or tumor, lung tumor, pneumonia, gastroesophageal reflux and heart attack are linked with hiccups and should be investigated if the hiccups are persistent or associated with weight loss. In some cases, the underlying cause can be identified and treated.

Persistent hiccups (lasting for more than 48 h) can cause significant decline in patients’ quality of life.1 Persistent hiccups can be very tiring and can make eating and drinking difficult. The common triggers of hiccups includes stretching of the stomach after rapid eating, drinking or swallowing air or fizzy drinks, indigestion due to eating hot and spicy food, sudden change of air temperature, excess alcohol consumption or excess smoking. Stress and emotional excitement are also potential triggers.

First Aid of Hiccups

The following steps can be tried at home in order to stop hiccups.

  • Hold the breath for few seconds.
  • Breathing deeply through the nose, then exhaling slowly through the mouth.
  • Place a teaspoon of dry granulated sugar on the back of the tongue and swallow it.
  • Press tongue hard against roof of mouth.
  • Drink slowly a glass filled with ice cubes and water (the rapid change of temperature in the esophagus may stop the hiccup).
  • Bite a lemon or eat a piece of fresh ginger.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • While sitting, lean forward and compress the chest and diaphragm against the knees.
  • Distraction from one’s hiccup such as being startled.
  • In babies, hiccups are usually stopped immediately by the suckling reflex, either by breastfeeding or sucking a bottle teat or nipple.

Many of the cures above are only for minor and short-lasting cases and are often ineffective for prolonged hiccups. For more severe and persistent hiccups, seek expert medical help.


1.Szigeti N, Fábián G. Prolonged hiccups causing worsened quality of life--successful medical therapy. Orv Hetil. 2005; 146(41): 2117–2119 (Article in Hungarian).

2.Martínez Rey C, Villamil Cajoto I. Hiccup: review of 24 cases. Rev Med Chil. 2007; 135(9): 1132-1138. (Article in Spanish).

3.ten Holter JB. Hiccups.  Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2005; 149(48): 2659-2662 (Article in Dutch).

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 03, 2015

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