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.
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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Factors that may increase your chance of getting hiccups include: Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcoholGastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)DehydrationStress or intense emotionsSome medicationsMedical procedures, such as mechanical ventilation and intubationCertain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves, such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
Hiccups may cause: Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlledUneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup
Call your doctor if your hiccups: Last for more than 2 daysAre painful or get in the way of your daily life, such as eating or sleeping
You will be asked 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.
Your body fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your abdomen and chest. This can be done with: X-raysCT scanEchocardiogramBronchoscopyUpper endoscopy
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 molassesSucking on ice cubesGagging with purposeValsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movementBreathing into a bagGasping with purpose
Some drugs may help hiccups, including:
AntipsychoticsAntiseizure medicationsMedications used to treat nauseaMuscle relaxers
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 stomachDrinking carbonated beverages or alcoholBecoming overexcited, including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying
Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 21, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2015.
What causes hiccups? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/hiccup.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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