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Know More About Hiccups

Know More About Hiccups


Hiccups - everyone gets them at some point or the other. We have a muscle that demarcates the abdomen and chest, called the 'Diaphragm'. Due to certain factors, the brain signals the diaphragm to forcefully shift downward, causing air to suddenly be pulled into the back of the throat. This sudden shift in pressure causes a small area in the throat, around our vocal cords, to temporarily shut causing a ‘hic’ sound.


What Causes Hiccups?




Hiccups can be triggered by a host of physical or emotional reactions. They begin when the nerve that connects the brain to the diaphragm gets irritated. These reactions can include:


Lifestyle Causes: Such hiccups will generally last lesser than 48 hours and can be caused due to:


  1. Eating spicy food
  2. Overeating or eating too fast
  3. Nervousness, stress, or excitement
  4. Consuming carbonated beverages or too much alcohol
  5. Sudden temperature changes
  6. Swallowing excess air (for instance, while chewing gum or eating candy)


Medical Reasons: A host of medical conditions have been linked to chronic hiccups. These include gastric issues, respiratory conditions, diabetes, liver & kidney problems, side effect of chemotherapy or nervous system related disorders.


What Causes Long-term Hiccups?


In cases where hiccups stick around longer, they could be a sign of damage or aggravation to the vagus or phrenic nerves that connect to the diaphragm. These nerves are delicate and can easily be affected by illnesses as simple as a sore throat or gastroesophageal reflux, or by a hair touching your eardrums. Goitre, cysts in the neck, or tumours can also damage these nerves.


Long term hiccups may also be caused by a host of nervous system or metabolic disorders that can disrupt your body’s control over the hiccup reflex. These include encephalitis, meningitis, stroke, tumours, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, diabetes and kidney failure.


Steroidal or tranquillizer drugs, and certain medical procedures that involve the abdomen or those that utilise anaesthesia can also trigger long term hiccups. Men run a higher risk of developing long-term hiccups than do women.


When Should You See A Doctor?


Fortunately, in most cases, hiccups will subside on their own in a few minutes. You should consult a doctor if you have hiccups for over 48 hours, or if they are causing you distress by interfering with basic body functions such as breathing or eating. Reach out for medical attention if your hiccups are accompanied by stomach pain, shortness of breath, fever, vomiting, or if you are coughing up blood.

How Can Hiccups Be Treated?




For frequent hiccups, give up carbonated beverages and start eating meals slowly, with smaller bites. If you’re looking for relief from hiccups at home, you can try the following remedies. They are not scientific methods but home-remedies used over the years:


  1. Take slow sips or gargle with ice-cold water 
  2. Hold your breath for a short time, breath out, then do it again three or four times
  3. Bite on a lemon or swallow some sugar
  4. Sit down and hug your knees as close to your chest as possible for a short time
  5. Lean forward so that you gently compress your chest
  6. Put your finger in your throat to trigger a gag reflex


If your doctor notices an underlying medical problem that is causing prolonged hiccups, he or she may suggest treating it with the help of drugs. Certain surgical procedures can block the phrenic nerve or those that utilise battery-operated devices to electrically stimulate your vagus nerve to stop hiccups.


Keep in mind that these procedures will only be recommended in serious cases where normal body functions are threatened.


Medanta Medical Team
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