What is it?
- Hiccups are a common condition that affects nearly everyone. Hiccups involve the involuntary contraction of the diaphragm — 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.
- Many people have home remedies for hiccups that they swear by, ranging from breathing into a paper bag to swallowing a teaspoon of granulated sugar.
- Hiccups may result from a large meal, alcoholic beverages or sudden excitement. Rarely, hiccups may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. A bout of hiccups usually lasts only a few minutes. But in some people, about one in 100,000, hiccups may persist for months. This can result in malnutrition and exhaustion.
The characteristic sound of a hiccup, sometimes preceded by a slight tightening sensation in your chest, abdomen or throat, are the only signs and symptoms associated with hiccups. The number of hiccups a minute typically ranges between four and 60.
The most common triggers for short-term hiccups include:
- Eating too much
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Sudden temperature changes
- Excitement or emotional stress
Hiccups that last more than 48 hours may be caused by a variety of factors, which are generally grouped into the following categories:
Nerve damage or irritation
The most common cause of long-term hiccups is damage 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
- Sore throat or laryngitis
- A tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck
- Gastroesophageal reflux
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:
Metabolic disorders and drugs
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney failure
Men are much more likely to develop long-term hiccups than are women.
Several factors related to surgical procedures appear to increase your risk of developing long-term hiccups. They include:
- General anesthesia
- Intubation, in which a tube is placed down your throat to help you breathe
- Neck extension, which is necessary during intubation
- Abdominal distension, which is common after endoscopic procedures performed through small incisions
- Organ manipulation
Mental or emotional issues
Anxiety, stress and excitement have been associated with some cases of short-term and long-term hiccups.
Prolonged hiccups may interfere with:
- Post-surgical wound healing
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) scan
- 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.