Hiccups and How to Stop It?

Hiccups and How to Stop It?



What is hiccup?

Hiccups are repeated spasms from the diaphragm that cause the vocal cords to close and make a ‘hic’ sound. The diaphragm is a muscle under the ribcage that separates your chest from your abdomen. It is an important muscle for breathing. During a hiccup, your diaphragm moves downward as you breathe in. Then, your glottis, which is the space between the vocal cords, closes to stop more air from coming in. This creates the ‘hic’ sound.

Stop Hiccups text on notepad, concept background

The cause of hiccups

It is normal for everyone to get hiccups. These hiccups should stop after a few minutes or hours without treatment. There are many reasons people get hiccups. A few include: eating too quickly, eating too much, drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol, over-stretching your neck, stressful emotions, taking drugs and going through chemotherapy. 

The physiology behind hiccups is still unclear. It could be due to low levels of carbon dioxide. Another reason could be irritation of these phrenic and vagus nerves involved during breathing. The phrenic nerve connects the neck to the diaphragm, and the vagus nerve connects the brain to the stomach.

Long-lasting hiccups

If hiccups are still present after two days, this is known as ‘persistent hiccups.” If they are still present after a few months, they are known as ‘intractable’ or ‘long-lasting hiccups.’ This is usually due to an underlying medical problem. Some examples include cancer, tumor, stroke, disorder of the stomach or esophagus, pneumonia, pancreatitis and hepatitis. 

Risk factors for developing long-lasting hiccups include being male, mental or emotional issues, post-surgery with anesthesia, or post-surgery involving the stomach area.

Treatment

Some home remedies may treat the simple hiccups. These include drinking water quickly, gargling water, swallowing granulated sugar, swallowing dry pieces of bread, swallowing crushed ice, gently pulling on your tongue and gagging.

Treatment for persistent or long-lasting hiccups requires medical attention and is aimed at managing the underlying cause. Medicines such as gabapentin, baclofen and chlorpromazine can be prescribed for long-lasting hiccups. Procedures can also be performed to manipulate the phrenic nerve and control hiccups.

Summary:

  • Causes of Hiccups:
    • Repeated spasms from the diaphragm causing vocal cord closure and ‘hic’ sound.
    • Diaphragm moves downward during a hiccup, glottis closes to stop more air, creating the sound.
  • Common Reasons for Hiccups:
    • Eating/drinking quickly or too much, carbonated beverages, alcohol.
    • Over-stretching neck, stress, drugs, chemotherapy.
  • Physiology of Hiccups:
    • Unclear, may be related to low carbon dioxide levels or irritation of phrenic and vagus nerves.
  • Long-lasting Hiccups:
    • Persistent hiccups last more than two days, intractable if lasting months.
    • Linked to underlying medical issues like cancer, tumors, stroke, stomach/esophagus disorders.
  • Risk Factors for Long-lasting Hiccups:
    • Male gender, mental/emotional issues, post-surgery with anesthesia, stomach area surgery.
  • Treatment:
    • Home remedies for simple hiccups (drinking water, gargling, etc.).
    • Persistent hiccups may require medications (gabapentin, baclofen, chlorpromazine) or procedures to manipulate phrenic nerve.
  • Sources:

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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