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

    Phrenic Nerve

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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:

        
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests to see abdominal and chest structures include:     
  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Upper endoscopy
  • 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