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:
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.
Yes. Hiccups can happen to adults, children, and infants. They are more common in men.
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:
Long-lasting hiccups can be linked to a more serious condition. In those cases, they will not go away until the problem is corrected.
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:
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.
Because the exact cause of hiccups is uncertain, there are many remedies that may or may not work. These home treatments will not hurt you, so there is typically no harm in trying them.
Home treatments include:
Hiccups that last for a long time can be treated by medication. Drugs used for long-lasting hiccups include:
If hiccups last only minutes up to a couple hours, you probably do not need to see your doctor. However, if the hiccups last more than a few days (typically two), you should see your doctor. When the hiccups happen at the same time as symptoms like a headache, trouble keeping your balance, or numbness, it can be a sign of something more serious. If you have those symptoms with hiccups, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/31/2017