What Are Hiccups?

Everyone, at one point in life, has been tormented by hiccups – annoying and involuntary fits that make it close to impossible for you to have a conversation, maintain a train of thought and even eat a meal. Most people hiccup about four to six times every minute when having hiccups. Everyone on earth has a specific hiccup pattern in their lifetime.

Hiccups mostly start from nowhere and tend to be a bother very quickly. This has led to people trying all sorts of creative and unusual ideas to rid themselves off their hiccups. As such, there are countless theories and discussions online on treating hiccups. Here are the causes, symptoms and possible complications of hiccups.

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups (singultus) can be defined as repetitive uncontrollable diaphragm contractions. The diaphragm is the muscle that is right below the lungs and marks the boundary between the abdomen and chest. The diaphragm is the muscle that regulates breathing and when the breathing is out of rhythm you get hiccups. With each diaphragm spasm, the vocal cords and larynx close suddenly and this causes a rush of air to the lungs. The body, in turn, responds with a gasp that creates the hiccups sounds.

Hiccups can also be spelled as “hiccoughs”. In most cases, hiccups resolve after a few hours without the need for treatment. There are, however, some rare cases where hiccups last for long. When hiccups last for over 48 hours, they can be classified into:

  • Prolonged or persistent hiccups - hiccups that last for over 48 hours.
  • Intractable hiccups - hiccups that last for over a month.

Did you know that a fetus in the uterus can also have hiccups?

What Are Symptoms & Complications of Hiccups?

The only signs that you have hiccups are the characteristic sound of hiccups, a slight tight sensation in the chest, throat or abdomen that precedes the hiccup sound. Hiccups infrequently last for a long time in most individuals and have no underlying medical problem.

Complications

Prolonged cases of the hiccups may cause complications. They include:

  • Loss of weight. If the hiccups occur at shorter intervals than normal, they might interfere with the victims eating habits. This could eventually lead to weight loss.
  • Sleeplessness. Persistent hiccups can easily interfere with your sleep patterns. You might find it hard to stay asleep or get sleep.
  • Fatigue. If you have prolonged hiccups, you might find that you’re exhausted in most of the time due to the lack of adequate sleep and poor eating habits.
  • Communication issues. Hiccups make it very hard to talk to others especially if they are persistent.
  • Depression. Long terms hiccups have been linked to a predisposition to suffer from clinical depression.
  • Slow healing of wounds after surgery. If the hiccups are relentless, post-surgical wounds will take a long time to heal completely.

When to See a Doctor

See a door if your hiccups become persistent or more chronic (last for over 3 hours). Also, see a doctor if the hiccups affect your sleep pattern, cause vomiting or food reflux, or interfere with your eating.

Hiccups are rarely an emergency. If they last for over 3 hours, come with the feeling as if your throat is closing up, you spit blood, you are vomiting, you have shortness of breath, and you have fever or severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention at once.

What Are Causes & Risk Factors of Hiccups?

The most common hiccups trigger will last for less than 2 days. They include:

  • Consuming carbonated beverages
  • Excess consumption of alcohol
  • Excess eating
  • Emotional stress or excitement
  • Sudden changes in temperature
  • Swallowing air when sucking on candy or chewing gum

Causes of Prolonged Hiccups

Hiccups that last for over 48 hours can be caused by various factors. These factors are generally grouped into these categories:

Causes

Description

Nerve irritation or damage

Long-term hiccups can be caused when the phrenic nerves or vagus nerves are irritated or damaged. These nerves are the ones that serve your diaphragm muscle. Here are some factors that may cause irritation or damage to these nerves:

  • Laryngitis or sore throat
  • Gastro-esophageal reflux
  • Goiter, cyst or tumor in your neck
  • Hair or some other thing in the ear that is touching the eardrum

Central nervous system problems

Damage to the CNS or an infection in the central nervous system resulting from trauma can disturb the body’s normal hiccup reflex control. Examples include:

  • Tumors
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis

Drugs and metabolic problems

The following can also trigger long-term hiccups:

  • Tranquilizers
  • Steroids
  • Kidney failure
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Diabetes
  • Barbiturates
  • Anesthesia
  • Alcoholism

Risk Factors

Women are less likely to develop long-term hiccups compared to men. Here are other factors that might increase the risk of hiccups:

  • Surgery. Some people develop hiccups after they have undergone procedures involving abdominal organs or general anesthesia.
  • Emotional or mental issues. Excitement, stress and anxiety have been linked to some cases relating to long-term and short-term hiccups.

What Are the Treatments for Hiccups?

Some hiccups cases don't require medical treatment and usually stop soon after. However, here are some steps you could try out to stop hiccups. They are:

  • Breathe in, holding the breath for ten seconds then slowly breathing out. Repeat this process 3-4 times. Pause for twenty minutes then do it again
  • Breathe into a paper bag but do not cover the head with it
  • Bring your knees to your chest and then hug them for a few minutes
  • Gargle with ice water
  • Drink from far side of a glass. Stand upright, bend over then put your mouth at the opposite side of that glass. As you bend, tilt the glass away from you and drink
  • Lean forward to gently compress your chest
  • Pour a few drops of vinegar into your mouth
  • Apply gentle pressure to your nose then swallow
  • Take granulated sugar and place it in your mouth and wait for it to melt. Swallow it
  • Gently press your diaphragm
  • Slice a piece of lemon then suck on it like what you would do with a sweet

Here is a video on more strategies that will help you deal with hiccups:

Medications for Prolonged Hiccups

These are some medications that may be prescribed if there is no diagnosis of an underlying condition. Doctors usually prescribe a 2 week, low-dose course of medication. The course length, however, depends on the hiccups severity, the age and general health of the patient. The medications include:

  • Reglan (metoclopramide). This is anti-nausea medication that also helps treat hiccups in some patients.
  • Haloperidol. This is an anti-psychotic drug that also eases hiccups symptoms.
  • Gabapentin. This is used to treat epilepsy, but is also used for neuropathic pain. It also eases hiccup symptoms.
  • Chlorpromazine. It is an anti-psychotic medication that also eases hiccups.
  • Lioresal (baclofen). This is a muscle relaxant.
 
 
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