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Hiccup: Why We Have Them, and What to Do About Them?

Hiccups are a very reasonable part of life. They happen when a person’s air intake in blocked momentarily. Anyone can get hiccups for no reason at all, but it is usually a minor discomfort. However, a prolonged hiccup may be a sign of a severe health problem.

When a hiccup happens, it is as a result of a sudden, involuntary contraction of the voice box, or larynx, the diaphragm, and a full closure of the glottis. This leads to a sudden rush of air into the lungs, and of course, the “hic” sound that makes it a hiccup. The glottis is the center part of the larynx, where our vocal cords are housed.

Hiccups are known in the medical field as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter or singultus (SDF). Hiccups can either occur individually or occur in bouts. They are also often rhythmic, which means that the interval between every hiccup is relatively constant.

Almost everyone has a hiccup from time to time, but people do not bother as they usually resolve themselves without any treatment within a couple of minutes.

Very rarely, there may be cases of prolonged or chronic hiccups, and they can last for a month or more. There are cases where hiccups may last over two months, and such hiccups are known as intractable hiccups.

If an episode of hiccups lasts longer than two days, it is considered a persistent hiccup, and the person experiencing such should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Such kind of hiccups could be a sign of a more serious health problem. This kind of hiccup tends to be more prevalent in men than in women. And the most prolonged recorded hiccups lasted 60 years.

Quick facts on hiccups

The specific cause of hiccups remains unknown, but severe cases of hiccups are connected to a wide range of health challenges, including and gastrointestinal problems and stroke.

Most cases of hiccups resolve without any form of treatment, but prolonged cases of hiccups may lead to complications like insomnia and depression.

If a person has hiccups for longer than 48 hours, such a person must see a doctor, who may prescribe a muscle relaxant.

Avoid alcohol and not eating too fast can help to lessen the chance of hiccups.

Causes of hiccups

The National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD), explains or defines hiccups to be “an involuntary spasmodic contraction of the muscle at the base of the lungs (diaphragm) followed by the rapid closure of the vocal cords.”

A large variety of underlying conditions may be responsible for chronic or persistent hiccups.

How or why precisely short bouts of hiccups occur is still unclear, but certain factors have been linked with a higher risk of getting them.

Lifestyle factors

The following lifestyle factors may trigger hiccups:

  • hot and spicy food that irritates the phrenic nerve, which is close to the esophagus
  • Gas present in the stomach that pushes against the diaphragm
  • Overeating food or Causing stomach distension
  • Drinking hot liquids, sodas, or alcoholic drinks, most especially carbonated drinks.
  • Dealing with stress or strong emotions
  • The use of some medications, like opiates, barbiturates, anesthesia, benzodiazepines, corticosteroids, and methyldopa are prevalent causes of hiccups.

Medical conditions

Often, cases of hiccups happen unexpectedly, and neither the doctor nor the patient can identify their possible cause.

However, some medical conditions have been connected to cases of chronic hiccups.

These conditions include:

  • Gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or small bowel obstruction.
  • Respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia, pleurisy of the diaphragm, or asthma
  • frequent and excessive consumption of alcohol
  • medical conditions that affect the central nervous system (CNS), such as encephalitis, a traumatic brain injury (TNI), a brain tumor, or stroke
  • diseases that irritate the vagus nerve, such as pharyngitis, meningitis, or goiter
  • psychological reactions, such as grief, anxiety, excitement, stress, shock, or hysterical behavior.
  • Conditions that affect metabolisms, such as diabetes, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia.
  • Kidney and liver problems
  • cancer, either due to damage caused by as a side effect of treatment, like chemotherapy or by the condition itself.
  • Conditions of the autonomic nervous system, which may also affect sweating, breathing, coughing, heartbeat, and hiccups.

Other conditions that may cause hiccups include liver cancer, bladder irritation, pregnancy, pancreatitis, and hepatitis. Some other risk factors include surgery, tumors, and lesions.


Typically, most cases of hiccups will resolve themselves within a few minutes or hours without any medical treatment. However, If your hiccups persist, see your doctor.

Some tips may help, but please note that their effectiveness is uncertain.

Tips for getting rid of hiccups


The steps below may help you get rid of hiccups quickly:

  • Gargle with icy water or sip ice-cold water slowly.
  • Hold your breath for a short space of time, gently breath out, then repeat the process three or four times straight, and do this again every 20 minutes.
  • As you swallow, place mild pressure on your nose.
  • Place mild pressure on your diaphragm.
  • Swallow some granulated sugar.
  • Bite on a lemon.
  • Take a tiny amount of vinegar, just small enough to taste.
  • Breathe fast in and out of a paper bag, but never use a plastic bag and do not do this covering your head with the bag.
  • Sit down on a flat surface and hug your knees as close to your chest as possible for a short time.
  • Lean forward so that you can compress your chest gently.
  • Alternative therapies are also available and may include acupuncture and hypnosis.
  • Gently pull on your tongue.
  • Rub your eyeballs.
  • Push your finger down your throat to trigger a gag reflex.

You most probably know some of these tips, as many of them have been passed down through generations. They may indeed be handy, but there is little or no research to support their use.

Hiccups can be quite discomforting, and it is no surprise that many of us have invented ways to deal with it. If you have had a severe hiccup case, know someone who has had one, or if you want to tell us how you deal with hiccups, please leave a comment below.

Do not forget that it is imperative to contact your doctor if hiccups last as long as two days.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

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