Hiccups
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition
Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They are repeated and cannot be controlled. This results in an odd, sometimes uneasy gasping sensation and sound with each hiccup.

Causes
Hiccups are caused by any number of factors that irritate the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. Its main function is to help the lungs draw in air during breathing.

Phrenic Nerve and Diaphragm

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Risk Factors
Factors that may increase your chance of getting hiccups include:

  • Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcohol
  • Gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Dehydration
  • Stress or intense emotions
  • Some medications
  • Medical procedures, such as mechanical ventilation and intubation
  • Certain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves, such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
Symptoms
Hiccups may cause:

  • Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlled
  • Uneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if your hiccups:

  • Last for more than two days
  • Are very painful or get in the way of your daily life, such as eating or sleeping
Diagnosis
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need tests if the doctor is concerned that the hiccups may be caused by a condition. These tests might include:

Treatment
Many treatments for hiccups involve stimulating nerves that may be involved. This can be done by:

  • Eating hard to swallow items such as granulated sugar or molasses
  • Sucking on ice cubes
  • Gagging with purpose
  • Valsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movement
  • Breathing into a bag
  • Gasping with purpose
Some drugs may help hiccups, including:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Medications used to treat nausea
  • Muscle relaxers
Prevention
It is not known why some people get hiccups. There are no sure ways to prevent developing them. However, if you are prone to hiccups, you might want to avoid:

  • Overfilling your stomach
  • Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
  • Becoming overexcited, including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying



RESOURCES:
American Academy of Family Physicians

National Library of Medicine

CANADIAN RESOURCES:
Canadian Institutes of Health Research


References:
Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 21, 2013. Accessed December 13, 2013.

What causes hiccups? Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/hiccup.html. Updated October 2011. Accessed December 13, 2013.

Last Reviewed December 2013



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