Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. Each contraction is followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords, which produces the characteristic "hic" sound.
Hiccups may result from a large meal, alcoholic or carbonated beverages or sudden excitement. In some cases, hiccups may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. For most people, a bout of hiccups usually lasts only a few minutes. Rarely, hiccups may persist for months. This can result in weight loss and exhaustion.
Hiccupping is a symptom. It may sometimes be accompanied by a slight tightening sensation in your chest, abdomen or throat.
Make an appointment to see your doctor if your hiccups last more than 48 hours or if they are so severe that they cause problems with eating, sleeping or breathing.
The most common triggers for hiccups that last less than 48 hours include:
Hiccups that last more than 48 hours may be caused by a variety of factors, which can be grouped into the following categories.
A cause of long-term hiccups is damage to or irritation of the vagus nerves or phrenic nerves, which serve the diaphragm muscle. Factors that may cause damage or irritation to these nerves include:
A tumor or infection in your central nervous system or damage to your central nervous system as a result of trauma can disrupt your body's normal control of the hiccup reflex. Examples include:
Long-term hiccups can be triggered by:
Men are much more likely to develop long-term hiccups than are women. Other factors that may increase your risk of hiccups include:
Prolonged hiccups may interfere with:
During the physical exam, your doctor may perform a neurological exam to check your:
If your doctor suspects an underlying medical condition may be causing your hiccups, he or she may recommend one or more of the following tests.
Samples of your blood may be checked for signs of:
These types of tests may be able to detect anatomical abnormalities that may be affecting the vagus nerve, phrenic nerve or diaphragm. Imaging tests may include:
These procedures utilize a thin, flexible tube containing a tiny camera, which is passed down your throat to check for problems in your esophagus or windpipe.
Most cases of hiccups go away on their own without medical treatment. If an underlying medical condition is causing your hiccups, treatment of that illness may eliminate the hiccups. The following treatments may be considered for hiccups that have lasted longer than two days.
Drugs that may be used to treat long-term hiccups include:
If less invasive treatments aren't effective, your doctor may recommend an injection of an anesthetic to block your phrenic nerve to stop hiccups.
Another option is to surgically implant a battery-operated device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to your vagus nerve. This procedure is most commonly used to treat epilepsy, but it has also helped control persistent hiccups.
Although there's no certain way to stop hiccups, if you have a bout of hiccups that lasts longer than a few minutes, the following home remedies may provide relief, although they are unproven:
If you have chronic hiccups, lifestyle changes may help:
When long-term hiccups don't respond to other remedies, alternative treatments, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, may be helpful.
While you may initially consult your family doctor about your persistent hiccups, he or she may refer you to a specialist if you have persistent or severe hiccups.
You may want to write a list that includes:
Your doctor may ask:
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