Hiccups

Overview

Definition

Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They are repeated and cannot be controlled. This results in an odd, sometimes uneasy gasping sensation and sound with each hiccup.

Causes

Hiccups are caused by any number of factors that irritate the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates the abdominal and chest cavities. Its main function is to help the lungs draw in air during breathing.

Phrenic Nerve and Diaphragm
Phrenic Nerve
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the chances of hiccups:

  • Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcohol
  • Gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Dehydration
  • Stress or intense emotions
  • Some medications
  • Medical procedures, such as mechanical ventilation and intubation
  • Certain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves, such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Hiccups may cause:

  • Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlled
  • Uneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if your hiccups:

  • Last for more than 2 days
  • Are painful or get in the way of your daily life, such as eating or sleeping

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need tests if the doctor is concerned that the hiccups may be caused by a condition.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy

Treatments

Treatment

Many treatments for hiccups involve stimulating the nerves that may be involved. This can be done by:

  • Eating hard to swallow items such as granulated sugar or molasses
  • Sucking on ice cubes
  • Gagging with purpose
  • Valsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movement
  • Breathing into a bag
  • Gasping with purpose

Some drugs may help hiccups:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Medications used to treat nausea
  • Muscle relaxers

Prevention

It is not known why some people get hiccups. There are no sure ways to prevent developing them. However, if you are prone to hiccups, you might want to avoid:

  • Overfilling your stomach
  • Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
  • Becoming overexcited, including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Singultus)

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://familydoctor.org 

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Institutes of Health Research http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115733/Hiccups . Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed March 23, 2018.

What causes hiccups? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/hiccup.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed March 23, 2018.