Hiccups can occur even when you are still in your mother’s womb. There is a thin muscle below your lungs that creates a partition between your chest cavity and abdominal cavity. When this muscle (Diaphragm) undergoes frequent, repetitive and uncontrolled contractions, Hiccups occur.
When your diaphragm gets irritated due to some reason, it can spasm, forcing you to suddenly suck air into your throat, where it hits your voice box. This causes abrupt closure of your vocal cords, creating the characteristic “hic” sound.
How hiccups start
In majority of the individuals who experience hiccups, the onset is usually sudden, with no certain cause known till date. In most cases it generally lasts for few minutes and gets terminated by itself.
In few individuals hiccups can persists for a longer duration. When they persists for more than 48 hours they are called persistent/long term hiccups.
Causes of hiccups
Causes can be divided into two categories:
A. Short term hiccups triggers
- Overeating or binge eating
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Carbonated drinks
- Sudden emotional stress
- Sudden climate/temperature change
- Too much spicy food
B. Long term hiccups triggers
Long term or persistent hiccups are generally caused due to irritation or injury to the phrenic or vagus nerve. Common causes are:
- GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Lower respiratory tract infection
- Excess wax or some foreign body irritating ear drum
- Thyroid gland enlargement
Some other less common causes of hiccups are:
- Head injury
- Multiple sclerosis
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney disease
- Certain drug use like steroids, barbiturates
Who are more likely to get hiccups
Almost everyone experience hiccups once in their life. There are certains factors which make one more susceptible than the rest. These are:
- Male gender
- Individuals who have received general anesthesia
- Previous surgery, specially abdominal
- Individuals with high anxiety/ stress levels
Problems associated with hiccups
Common issues that people face with long term or persistent hiccups are:
- Disturbed sleep
- Discomfort while eating
- Troubled conversation
When to consult a doctor
In vast majority of cases hiccups are transient and disappears within couple of minutes or hours. Think of consulting your primary physician if they don’t get reverted even after 48 hours of onset or you are having hard time eating or breathing or unbearable associated chest discomfort.
Some potential home remedies
Hiccups are usually benign, and do not pose any life threat. However, these can surely be annoying to some. Here are few commonly practised home remedies to stop hiccups, however none of these are medically proven to stop hiccups.
- Drinking ice cold water
- Pinching your nose and holding your breath
- Voluntary belching or gasping
- Folding your knees on your chest and holding the position
What to expect at doctor’s clinic
If your hiccups are troubling you, then it’s better to take the help of your doctor. Your doctor can advise you some tests to understand the underlying cause like
- Routine blood investigations to rule out any kidney disease, infection, liver function etc.
- Chest x-ray for diaphragm imaging
- CT chest or MRI
- Bronchoscopy or Endoscopy
If no underlying cause gets identified then your can doctor can advise you with certain anti hiccup medications like
Take home message
Hiccups is neither a medical emergency nor a life threatening condition, but can be troublesome and can affect the quality of life if it persists.
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