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