What is hiccups?

Hiccups: Overview

Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the diaphragm, a large sheet of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The spasm causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords (glottis). This closure causes the "hiccup" sound.

A very full stomach can cause hiccups that go away on their own. A full stomach can be caused by things like eating too much food too quickly or swallowing too much air.

Most hiccups go away on their own within a few minutes to a few hours and do not require any treatment.

Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are called persistent hiccups. Hiccups that last longer than a month are called intractable hiccups. Both persistent and intractable hiccups may be a sign of a more serious health problem.

Hiccups

Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the diaphragm, causing an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords (glottis). The closure of the vocal cords causes the characteristic "hiccup" sound.

Hiccups are also called hiccough and singultus.

A very full stomach (gastric distention) can cause bouts of hiccups. While annoying and at times embarrassing, most bouts of hiccups go away on their own and do not require any treatment.

Persistent hiccups last longer than 48 hours. Hiccups that last longer than a month are called intractable hiccups. Both persistent and intractable hiccups may be a sign of a more serious health problem and require evaluation by a doctor.

The treatment for persistent or intractable hiccups depends on the underlying cause of the hiccups and may range from medicine to acupuncture or hypnosis. Sometimes several treatments may be tried before persistent or intractable hiccups are controlled.

What are the signs of hiccups?

Signs of hiccups include an in-breath that is suddenly stopped by your vocal cords closing. This closure causes a "hiccup" sound. The breath being stopped and the "hiccup" sound can't be controlled.

How are hiccups treated?

Most bouts of hiccups go away on their own within a few minutes to a few hours and do not need any treatment.

Many home remedies are used to treat hiccups. Some of these remedies include:

  • Holding your breath and counting slowly to 10.
  • Quickly drinking a glass of cold water.
  • Eating a teaspoon of sugar.

The treatment for persistent or intractable hiccups depends on the underlying cause of the hiccups and may range from medicine to acupuncture or hypnosis. Sometimes several treatments may be tried before persistent or intractable hiccups are controlled. If you have hiccups that last a few days or longer, your doctor may do some tests to rule out a more serious problem.

How can you help your child prevent hiccups?

  • Help your child to avoid swallowing air. You can teach your child to:
    • Eat slowly and avoid gulping food or beverages.
    • Chew food thoroughly before swallowing.
    • Avoid drinking through a straw.
    • Avoid chewing gum or eating hard candy.
  • Remind your child to avoid getting too full when they eat.
  • Have your child avoid sudden changes in stomach temperature, such as drinking a hot beverage and then a cold beverage.
  • Help your child avoid emotional stress or too much excitement.

How are hiccups diagnosed?

If hiccups last longer than 48 hours, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about your health history. Your doctor may do tests to rule out a more serious problem. Sometimes a specific cause for hiccups is not found.

How can you care for yourself when you have hiccups?

  • Try these safe and easy home remedies if your hiccups are making you uncomfortable.
    • Eat a teaspoon of sugar.
    • Hold your breath and count slowly to 10.
    • Quickly drink a glass of cold water.
  • If your doctor prescribed medicine, take it as directed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

What are hiccups?

Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. This spasm causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closing of the vocal cords. This is what makes the "hiccup" sound.

There are three types of hiccups:

  • Common hiccups. These usually go away on their own within a few minutes to a few hours.
  • Persistent hiccups. These last longer than 48 hours.
  • Intractable hiccups. These last longer than a month.

Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours can be a sign of a more serious health problem and should be checked by a doctor.

What causes hiccups?

Many things can cause short bouts of hiccups that go away on their own (common hiccups). These can include:

  • Overstretching the stomach. This can happen when you:
    • Eat too much.
    • Swallow air while doing things like eating, chewing gum, or smoking.
    • Drink carbonated drinks.
  • Having a sudden change in stomach temperature, such as drinking a hot beverage and then a cold beverage.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Emotional stress or excitement.

Hiccups that last more than 48 hours (persistent hiccups and intractable hiccups) can be caused by:

  • Central nervous system problems. These can be caused by things such as cancer, infections, stroke, or injury.
  • Metabolic problems, such as decreased kidney function or hyperventilation.
  • Irritated nerves in the head, neck, and chest.

Hiccups: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have trouble swallowing and are unable to swallow food or fluids.
  • You have hiccups for more than 2 days.
  • You have new symptoms, such as belly pain, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or vomiting.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have trouble swallowing but are able to swallow food and fluids.
  • Hiccups occur often and get in the way of your activities.
  • You think medicine may be causing your symptoms.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.