Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They are repeated and cannot be controlled. This results in an odd, sometimes uneasy gasping sensation and sound with each hiccup.
Hiccups are caused by any number of factors that irritate the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates the abdominal and chest cavities. Its main function is to help the lungs draw in air during breathing.
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Factors that may increase the chances of hiccups:
- Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcohol
- Gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Stress or intense emotions
- Some medications
- Medical procedures, such as mechanical ventilation and intubation
- Certain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves, such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
Hiccups may cause:
- Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlled
- Uneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if your hiccups:
- Last for more than 2 days
- Are painful or get in the way of your daily life, such as eating or sleeping
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need tests if the doctor is concerned that the hiccups may be caused by a condition.
Tests may include:
Many treatments for hiccups involve stimulating the nerves that may be involved. This can be done by:
- Eating hard to swallow items such as granulated sugar or molasses
- Sucking on ice cubes
- Gagging with purpose
- Valsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movement
- Breathing into a bag
- Gasping with purpose
Some drugs may help hiccups:
- Antiseizure medications
- Medications used to treat nausea
- Muscle relaxers
It is not known why some people get hiccups. There are no sure ways to prevent developing them. However, if you are prone to hiccups, you might want to avoid:
- Overfilling your stomach
- Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
- Becoming overexcited, including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115733/Hiccups. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed March 23, 2018.
What causes hiccups? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/hiccup.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 12/13/2013