Everything You Need to Know About Hiccups
Hiccups are sudden, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm that may repeat several times per minute. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. Each contraction is followed by a contraction of the vocal cords, resulting in a sudden rush of air into the lungs and creating the “hic” sound.
Hiccups may occur in episodes or individually. These are often rhythmic, meaning that the interval between each hiccup is relatively constant. Hiccups are a temporary minor problem, but prolonged hiccups may signal a major medical problem.
Women and men tend to get hiccups equally as often but hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are more common in men.
Causes of Hiccups
For hiccups that last less than 48 hours, common triggers may include-
- Eating quickly and swallowing air along with chewing gum.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Sudden temperature changes.
- Drinking carbonated beverages.
For hiccups that last longer than 48 hours, common triggers include-
Damage or irritation of the phrenic nerves or vagus nerves which serve the diaphragm muscle. This may be caused by-
- Sore throat or laryngitis, a tumor, cyst or goiter in the neck.
- A hair or any object in the ear touching the eardrum.
- Gastroesophageal reflux.
- Liver disease.
A tumor or infection in the central nervous system or damage to the central nervous system as a result of trauma. This can disrupt the body’s normal control of the hiccup reflex. This may be caused by-
- Traumatic brain injury.
- Multiple sclerosis.
Metabolic disorders and drugs, including-
- Kidney disease.
- Electrolyte imbalance.
Risk Factors for Hiccups
Hiccups can occur at any age, even in a fetus. But the following factors can put a person at risk of developing it more often than others-
- Being a male.
- Strong emotions and anxiety.
- People who have received general anesthesia.
- After surgery, especially abdominal surgery.
Symptoms of Hiccups
- A single or series of breathing diaphragm spasms that is usually rhythmic.
- A brief but painful, frequent or occasional interruption in normal breathing with a slight tightening sensation in the throat, chest or abdomen.
Are There any Complications?
Yes, long-term hiccups can lead to certain complications, which are as follows-
- Trouble sleeping.
- Fatigue or exhaustion.
- Weight loss.
How to Prevent Hiccups?
Although, there are no proven ways to prevent hiccups, but the following methods can be followed to prevent triggers that can cause hiccups:
- Avoid overeating.
- Avoid consumption of carbonated drinks.
- Self-protection from sudden temperature changes.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Stay calm. Avoid strong emotions, anger or anxiety.
Diagnosis for Hiccups
Hiccups that last less than 48 hours do not usually need any medical attention, as they resolve on their own. If they persist for longer, a medical professional should be consulted.
To make a diagnosis, the doctor will perform a physical examination and a neurological exam to check your balance and coordination, eyesight, muscle tone, strength and reflexes.
If any underlying medical condition is suspected, the doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests-
- Blood tests to check the signs of diabetes, infection or kidney disease.
- Imaging tests such as chest X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan to detect the anatomical abnormalities that may be affecting the vagus nerve, phrenic nerve or diaphragm.
- Endoscopic tests to check for problems in the windpipe or esophagus.
Treatment for Hiccups
Most of the hiccups resolve on their own without medical treatment. If an underlying condition is causing it, managing the condition may help eliminate the hiccups.
If prolonged hiccup is disrupting your quality of life, the doctor may prescribe medication including-
In cases that don’t respond to other treatments, the doctor may inject medication into the phrenic nerve to temporarily block the nerve’s action to stop hiccups.
Another option is the surgical implantation of a battery-operated device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. This procedure is commonly used to treat epilepsy, but it has been found to help control persistent hiccups.
Home Remedies to Control Hiccups
- Sugar-Have a teaspoon of sugar and let it melt slowly in your mouth without chewing. This remedy is effective to stop hiccups. It is especially suitable for young children who don’t follow detailed instructions on breathing patterns.
- Yogurt-Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of yogurt, stir well until the salt is completely dissolved. Consume it slowly, this will help stop hiccups.
- Cardamom powder-Cardamom powder is an effective remedy for hiccups. Boil 1 cup of water and add 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom powder. Let it cool, then strain and drink the liquid. This medication will help the diaphragm muscles relax and stop your hiccups.
- Ginger-Peel a small piece of fresh ginger and chew it gently to get rid of hiccups.
- Warm water-Slowly drink a glass of warm water. This helps stimulate the activity of the vagus nerve, which travels from the brain to the stomach, thereby reducing hiccups.
- Peanut butter-A spoonful of peanut butter is a great remedy that can help stop persistent hiccups.
- Holding breath-Hold your breath for a few seconds to effectively retain some of the carbon dioxide in your body. It works against spasms in the diaphragm and thus prevents hiccups.
- GheeTake 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds, mix it with 1/2 teaspoon of pure ghee and swallow the mixture. This will help reduce your hiccups.
- Pat on the back-If your hiccups are uncontrollable, gently pat your back, behind your neck along your spine. This helps relieve tension in the diaphragm muscles and stops hiccups.
When to see a doctor?
Make an appointment with your doctor if your hiccups last more than 48 hours or are severe enough to cause problems with eating, sleeping, or breathing.