Hiccups

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

An woman drinks water through a napkin, an old wives tale hiccup remedy.

Hiccup definition and facts

  • A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary contraction (spasm) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
  • Common causes of hiccups include:
    • eating too quickly,
    • eating or drinking too much,
    • diseases that irritate the nerves that control the diaphragm,
    • abdominal surgery,
    • strokes or
    • brain tumors,
    • noxious fumes, and
    • certain medications.
  • Most cases of hiccups can be cured or resolve in a short period of time and are rarely a medical emergency. See your doctor if hiccups last more than three hours, or if they disturb your eating or sleeping habits.
  • Home remedies or ways to get rid of hiccups include: holding your breath, drinking a glass of water quickly, pulling hard on your tongue, biting on a lemon, gargling with water, and using smelling salts.
  • Rarely, a doctor may prescribe medications such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), haloperidol (Haldol), and metoclopramide (Reglan) for severe, persistent hiccups.
  • Hiccups can be prevented by avoiding overeating, eating too quickly, or drinking too much to help prevent hiccups.

Quick GuideWeird Body Quirks in Pictures: Brain Freezes, Hiccupping, & More

Weird Body Quirks in Pictures: Brain Freezes, Hiccupping, & More

17 Weird Body Quirks Slideshow

Check out these 17 weird body quirks and their causes.

  1. Black hairy tongue
  2. Eye twitching
  3. Brain freeze
  4. Black hairy tongue
  5. Hiccups
An illustration of the diaphragm muscle.

Why do we hiccup?

Hiccups (also spelled hiccough) are sudden, involuntary contractions (spasms) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.

Hiccups are often rhythmic. They are usually just a temporary minor annoyance, but prolonged hiccups may signal a major medical problem. The longest recorded hiccup attack is six decades!

Women and men tend to get hiccups equally as often, but hiccups that last more than 48 hours are more common in men. Hiccups can even occur in a fetus while still in utero.

The medical term for hiccups is singultus, which comes from the Latin word for “gasp” or “sob.”

A woman eating a lot of food fast.

What causes hiccups?

Most of the time, there is no obvious cause for hiccups. However, there are some common known causes of hiccups.

Some causes of hiccups include:

  • Eating too quickly and swallowing air along with foods.
  • Eating too much (fatty or spicy foods, in particular) or drinking too much (carbonated beverages or alcohol) can distend the stomach and irritate the diaphragm, which can cause hiccups.
  • Any disease or disorder that irritates the nerves that control the diaphragm (such as liver disease, pneumonia, or other lung disorders).
  • Abdominal surgery can also irritate the nerves that control the diaphragm, causing hiccups.
  • Strokes or brain tumors involving the brain stem, and some chronic medical disorders (such as renal failure) have also been reported to cause hiccups.
  • Noxious fumes can also trigger hiccups.
  • Sudden changes in temperature
  • Fear or excitement

Some medications may also have hiccups as a side effect, for example:

woman with abdominal pain
A mom comforts her baby with hiccups.

What about hiccups in infants and babies?

As in adults, hiccups in newborns, infants, and babies are common and generally nothing to worry about. If hiccups occur during feeding, stop feeding until the hiccups go away. Usually the hiccups will "go away" in an infant or baby. You may try changing the position of the infant or baby, try to get your baby to burp, or calming him/her down to cure the hiccups. Sometimes resuming feeding will stop the hiccups. If your baby frequently hiccups during feedings, feed your baby when he's already relaxed, and is not overly hungry yet.

If your child's hiccups worsen or they seem to upset him, contact your pediatrician.

An infographic about the longest case of the hiccups ever recorded.

What are the symptoms of hiccups?

Sudden, forceful movement of the diaphragm, that causes the hiccup sound, is the only symptom of hiccups.

When should I contact my doctor for hiccups?

Most cases of hiccups resolve themselves in a short period of time and are rarely a medical emergency. See your doctor if hiccups last more than three hours, or if they disturb your eating or sleeping habits.

Seek medical attention if hiccups are associated with: abdominal pain, fever, shortness of breath, vomiting, coughing up blood, or feeling as if your throat is going to close up.

How are hiccups diagnosed?

Most of us know what a hiccup feels like and how to recognize it. In a medical setting, the diagnosis of hiccups is based on physical evaluation.

Blood tests or X-rays are usually not necessary unless your hiccups are a symptom of an associated medical condition.

Which specialties of doctors treat hiccups?

Hiccups generally go away on their own and do not require medical treatment, however, if hiccups last more than three hours or disturb eating or sleeping, you may see your primary care provider (PCP) such as a family practitioner, internist, or a child’s pediatrician.
There may be many different specialists who treat hiccups depending on the underlying cause, for example:

  • If the cause is a stroke or other neurological disorder, you may see a neurologist, a specialist in the nervous system and brain.
  • If the cause is acid reflux, you may see a gastroenterologist, a specialist in disorders of the digestive system.
  • If the cause is lung disease or pneumonia, you may see a pulmonologist, a specialist in disorders of the respiratory tract.
A woman drinks from the opposite edge of the glass.

How can I stop, get rid of, or cure hiccups?

Home remedies for hiccups

There are numerous home cures for hiccups. You can try these methods at home to get rid of hiccups:

Methods that cause the body to retain carbon dioxide, which is thought to relax the diaphragm and stop the spasms which cause the hiccups:

  • Hold your breath

Techniques that stimulate the nasopharynx and the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the stomach, and can decrease hiccupping:

  • Drink a glass of water quickly
  • Have someone frighten you
  • Pull hard on your tongue
  • Bite on a lemon
  • Gargle with water
  • Drink from the far side of a glass
  • Use smelling salts
  • Place one-half teaspoon of dry sugar on the back of your tongue. (This process can be repeated three times at two-minute intervals. Use corn syrup, not sugar, for young children.)
A patient discusses hiccups with her doctor.

Is there medical treatment for hiccups?

Most hiccups will stop on their own. Home remedies are generally sufficient to resolve hiccupping.

For persistent hiccups (lasting more than three hours) treatment varies, and you may need to contact your doctor.

  • A "hiccup bout" is an episode of hiccups that lasts up to 48 hours
  • "Persistent hiccups" continue more than 48 hours, up to one month
  • "Intractable hiccups" last longer than one month

A health-care professional may prescribe medications for severe, chronic hiccups. Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) is usually the first-line medication prescribed for hiccups. Other medications used to treat hiccups include haloperidol (Haldol) and metoclopramide (Reglan).

Some muscle relaxants, sedatives, analgesics, and even stimulants have also been reported to help alleviate hiccup symptoms.

Phrenic nerve surgery (the nerve that controls the diaphragm) is a treatment of last resort. This treatment is rarely performed and used only in cases that do not respond to other treatments.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

A man spins his son in the air playfully.

Are there any complications of hiccups?

Because most cases of hiccups resolve themselves either spontaneously or with self-administered treatment, complications are extremely rare.

In severe and persistent cases, where hiccups disturb eating and sleeping patterns, weight loss or sleep disturbances may occur.

Rarely, cardiac arrhythmias and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD and GER) have been noted in severe cases of hiccups.

Can hiccups be prevented?

Hiccups cannot always be prevented. Avoiding overeating, eating too quickly, or drinking too much can help prevent hiccups.

Reviewed on 10/7/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Wilkes, G., et al. “Hiccups.” Medscape. Nov 03, 2014
< http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/775746-overview>

Wilkes, G., et al. “Hiccups Treatment and Management. Medscape. Nov 03,2014
< http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/775746-treatment>

IMAGES:

1.Getty Images

2.iStock

3.iStock

4.iStock

5.MedicineNet

6.Getty Images

7.iStock

8.iStock

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors