A hiccup is a sound produced by unintentional movement of the muscle at the base of the lungs (diaphragm) followed by rapid closure of the vocal cords.
Hiccups often start for no apparent reason and usually disappear after a few minutes. Rarely, hiccups can persist for days, weeks, or months.
- Noxious fumes
- Hot and spicy foods or liquids
- Any disease or disorder that irritates the nerves that control the diaphragm (such as pleurisy or pneumonia)
- Stroke or tumor affecting the “hiccup center” in the brain
- Abdominal surgery
There may be no obvious cause for hiccups.
There is no sure way to stop hiccups, but there are a number of common suggestions that may be effective:
- Hold your breath.
- Breathe repeatedly into a paper bag.
- Drink a glass of cold water.
- Eat a teaspoon of sugar.
Call your health care provider if
You should contact your health care provider if hiccups persist for more than a few days.
What to expect at your health care provider’s office
If hiccups persist to the point that you visit your health care provider, a medical history and physical examination will be performed.
Medical history questions documenting hiccups in detail may include the following:
- Time pattern o Do you get hiccups easily? o How long has this episode of hiccups lasted?
- Aggravating factors o Have you recently consumed something that was hot or spicy? o Have you recently consumed carbonated beverages? o Have you been exposed to any fumes?
- Relieving factors o What have you done to try to relieve the hiccups? o What has been effective for you in the past? o How effective was the attempt at home treatment? o Did the hiccups stop for a while and then restart
- What other symptoms are present?
Diagnostic tests are seldom necessary unless a disease or disorder is suspected as the cause.
To treat persistent hiccups, the health care provider may perform gastric lavage or massage of the carotid sinus in the neck. THIS MUST BE DONE BY THE HEALTH CARE PROVIDER. DO NOT ATTEMPT CAROTID MASSAGE AT HOME!
If hiccups continue, a phenothiazine (especially chlorpromazine) or nasogastric intubation (tube insertion) may provide relief.
Very rarely, medical methods fail to treat persistent hiccups. Further treatment may include a phrenic nerve block.
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.