Medical Definition of Hiccups

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Hiccups: A hiccup is an extraordinary type of respiratory movement involving a sudden inspiration (intake of air) due to an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm accompanied by closure of the glottis (the vocal apparatus of the larynx).

The abrupt inspiration is the result of a sudden contraction of the diaphragm. Closure of the glottis then halts the incoming air. The column of air strikes the closed glottis to produce the characteristic sound: a hiccup.

Hiccups are often rhythmic. They are usually just a minor nuisance, but prolonged hiccups can become a major medical problem.

The word "hiccup" was in use by 1530. It is an instance of onomatopoeia, the imitation of natural sounds by words. Alternative forms of "hiccups" include "hiccough" and "hickup."

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Reviewed on 12/12/2018

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