What are hiccups?
Hiccups happen when your diaphragm, the muscle that separates your chest from your belly, suddenly contracts. When that happens, you take in air, and then your voice box closes shut, which is what causes the “hic” sound.
Most bouts of hiccups last less than 48 hours. Rarely, they can last longer. Hiccups that last longer than a month are called “intractable hiccups.”
In most cases, hiccups go away on their own with no lasting effects. But in some people, they can last a long time and lead to problems such as poor nutrition, tiredness, and reduced appetite.
What causes hiccups?
The most common causes include:
- Having an overly full stomach
- Drinking soda or other fizzy drinks
- Swallowing air (for example when you are chewing gum)
In rare situations, hiccups can have more serious causes, such as infections or irritation of a nerve in the neck or diaphragm. Intractable hiccups are unusual but could be a sign of another medical problem, such as acid reflux or cancer.
Is there anything I can do on my own to get rid of the hiccups?
Yes, there are a few things you can try:
- Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds, if possible.
- Breathe out against your closed mouth and nose. When you do this, tighten your stomach muscles so it feels like you are bearing down. Hold this for 5 seconds.
- Sip or gargle with very cold water, bite into a lemon, or swallow a small amount of granulated sugar. These things stimulate the back of your throat, which can help get rid of hiccups.
- While sitting, pull your knees up to your chest and lean forward. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, if possible.
Should I see a doctor or nurse?
See your doctor or nurse if you have hiccups that last longer than 48 hours. They will ask about your symptoms and do an exam. Most cases of hiccups are harmless. But they might want to do a few tests, depending on your symptoms, medical history, and what the exam shows.
How are hiccups treated?
If the self-help steps listed above do not work, there are a number of prescription medicines that can help. Acupuncture can also help some people. In very rare cases, surgery might be needed to treat people with extreme symptoms who do not get better with other treatments.