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Hiccups

(Singultus)

Definition

Hiccups are spasms of a muscle in the chest. They repeat without control. Each hiccup feels and sounds like a gasp.

Most hiccups go away quickly. Some may last a few minutes to a few hours. In some people, they may last more than 48 hours. This is not common.

Causes

Hiccups are caused by things that irritate a muscle in the chest. This muscle is called the diaphragm. It helps the lungs take in air during breathing.

Phrenic Nerve and Diaphragm
Phrenic Nerve

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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Eating habits—too much, too fast, or too spicy
  • Drinking alcohol or fizzy drinks like soda
  • Sudden changes in temperature
  • Smoking
  • Stress or strong emotions
  • Certain medical procedures, such as endoscopy

Hard to control hiccups are more common in men. The risk is also higher in people with an underlying health problem or injury.

Symptoms

The main symptom is a repeating spasm in the chest that cannot be controlled. A person may also make a gasping sound.

Diagnosis

Medical care may be needed if hiccups do not go away or cause other problems. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. Tests may be done to look for a cause.

Tests may be:

Treatment

Most hiccups go away on their own. Or they can be treated with methods at home, such as holding one's breath or breathing into a paper bag.

Hiccups that do not go away on their own may be treated with:

  • Alternative methods, such as massage and acupuncture
  • Medicines such as:
    • Antipsychotics
    • Antiseizure medicine
    • Medicines to treat nausea
    • Muscle relaxers

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent hiccups. People who get them often may want to avoid:

  • Eating too much too quickly
  • Spicy foods
  • Smoking
  • Drinking fizzy drinks or alcohol
  • Stress or strong emotions
RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center
https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research
http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Lee, G, Kim, R, et. al. Gender differences in hiccup patients: analysis of published case reports and case-control studies. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016 Feb;51(2):278-83.

Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hiccups. Accessed January 6, 2021.

What causes hiccups? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/hiccup.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 1/6/2021