Prone to hiccups? Here’s what you need to know

hiccups blog

Hiccups can happen to anyone at any time. The characteristic “hic” can occur four to 60 times a minute and last from a few minutes to several months. That makes hiccups impossible to ignore — for you and the people around you.

Hiccups can be more than just an annoyance. When they happen often or don’t go away quickly, they can affect important parts of your life, such as sleeping, eating and socializing. In some cases, hiccups can be a sign of a more serious condition.

What causes hiccups?

Hiccups happen because of spasms in your diaphragm, the muscle just below your lungs that plays a critical part in breathing. The sudden and involuntary diaphragm movement causes your vocal cords (larynx) to close quickly, making a “hic” sound.

What causes the diaphragm to spasm isn’t always obvious. But most experts associate hiccups with:

  • Eating or drinking too quickly, with bloating being the most common cause of hiccups
  • Irritation of the nerves in your diaphragm, which can come from eating spicy foods or drinking alcohol
  • Swallowing air, often resulting from laughing fits, drinking carbonated beverages or chewing gum

How to get rid of hiccups

Treatment for hiccups depends on the type of hiccups you’re experiencing:

Acute hiccups

Acute hiccups are the most common type. They last less than 48 hours — typically stopping after a few minutes  — and tend to go away on their own.

There are techniques you can try to get your hiccups to stop. There is no surefire cure — only anecdotal evidence that recommends:

  • Changing your breathing or posture: You may be able to interrupt the spasms by modifying your breathing. Try holding your breath for 10 to 20 seconds or breathing into a paper bag. You can also hug your knees to your chest and lean forward to put pressure on your diaphragm.
  • Using cold water: Gargling ice water or slowly sipping very cold water can stimulate your vagus nerve, part of your body’s nervous system. The vagus nerve connects to the diaphragm and can help it relax.
  • Engaging pressure points: Applying pressure to specific spots can also help stimulate the vagus nerve. Try pulling gently on your tongue or pressing both sides of your nose while swallowing.
  • Eating something acidic: Biting into a lemon or putting a few drops of vinegar on your tongue can help reset your diaphragm by engaging the vagus nerve.

Chronic hiccups

Chronic hiccups continue longer than acute hiccups:

  • Persistent hiccups last more than two days.
  • Intractable hiccups last longer than a month.

Having hiccups around the clock for multiple days, weeks or months may cause issues with:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Sleeping
  • Socializing
  • Working

When that happens, your doctor may first evaluate you to see if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Approximately 80% of persistent hiccup cases are related to GERD, which can cause stomach acid to flow up toward your mouth, upsetting the diaphragm. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medication or surgery to treat the reflux and eliminate the hiccups.

Chronic hiccups unrelated to GERD may be treated with medication or treatment to block or stimulate nerves associated with the respiratory system.

When to see a doctor for hiccups

As many as 4,000 people in the United States are hospitalized yearly for hiccups.

If your hiccups last longer than two days or interrupt your ability to sleep or eat, contact your primary care physician (PCP). They will want to know how long the hiccups have been happening, how often you get hiccups and whether you have any other symptoms.

Chronic hiccups can be a side effect of some medications. They can also occur after surgery or an endoscopic procedure.

In rare cases, persistent or intractable hiccups can indicate an underlying condition. If they do, you’ll typically have other symptoms of that condition, too. Hiccups may be a sign of:

Your PCP should always be your first call if you have concerns. They can evaluate your hiccups and general health to get you the care you need.

Take the Next Step

If you have persistent or recurring hiccups, reach out to your primary care physician.

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