What are hiccups?

Hiccups are repeated spasms of the diaphragm paired with a ‘hic’ sound from your vocal cords closing. The diaphragm is a muscle under your ribcage, separating the chest and the stomach area. This muscle is an important part of the breathing process. It moves downward when you breathe in and upward when you breathe out.

Two things happen when you hiccup:

  • The diaphragm pulls down between breaths, making you suck in air.
  • The glottis (space between the vocal cords) closes to stop more air coming in.

These actions make the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup. The process of the hiccup happens very quickly and usually returns to normal within minutes to a few hours without treatment.

Can hiccups happen to anyone?

Yes. Hiccups can happen to adults, children, and infants. They are more common in men.

What causes hiccups?

It is not clear why people get hiccups. There are several reasons hiccups might happen, including low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and irritated nerves. The phrenic nerve (connects the neck to the diaphragm) and vagus nerve (connects the brain to the stomach) are important parts of the breathing process.

Mild hiccups (those that go away in a short period of time) can happen when you:

  • Eat and drink too quickly
  • Drink carbonated beverages
  • Eat too much
  • Experience stress
  • Over-stretch your neck
  • Take drugs (particularly those for anxiety – benzodiazepines)
  • Drink alcohol
  • Drink a very hot or very cold drink

Long-lasting hiccups can be linked to a more serious condition. In those cases, they will not go away until the problem is corrected.

What does it mean if the hiccups last for more than two days?

If the hiccups do not go away within a few days, they are called persistent. If they last for a few months they are called intractable (long-lasting hiccups). Long-lasting hiccups are rare. They can be stressful and exhausting. Intractable hiccups can be part of a larger medical problem and might not go away until that issue is corrected.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Tumor
  • GERD (gastrointestinal and abdominal disorder)

Hiccups can also happen after surgery and during the recovery process from a procedure. See a doctor if your hiccups last for a long period of time.

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