A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Hiccup causes and cures remain a mystery

Graphic of child hiccuping - Kids hiccuping

Hiccups are annoying but seldom become a chronic health condition. They usually end on their own in 10-20 minutes.

Hiccups are noisy, annoying, and people try some pretty silly things to get rid of them.

Spasms in the dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of your chest called the diaphragm are to blame for pesky bouts of hiccups. The diaphragm contracts and causes you to take in air quickly. The air intake is cut off when the vocal cords close, which causes the hiccupping sound.

“It’s not entirely clear why hiccups happen, but we do know what usually triggers them,” said Dr. Nathaniel Stepp, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician.

Swallowing too much air, eating too quickly or too much, drinking alcohol, acid reflux or getting bumped in the neck can bring on a brief episode of hiccups that lasts a few minutes to a few hours.

Do home remedies work to stop hiccups?

If you ask 10 people how to stop hiccups, you’ll get 10 different answers.

Holding your breath, breathing into a paper bag, drinking water, being startled, pushing on your eyeballs or standing on your head can cure hiccups, depending who you ask. Certain foods are rumored to stop the spasms, including peppermint extract, orange bitters, peanut butter, lemons and sugar.

Science hasn’t proven that any of these home remedies are a sure-fire way to get rid of hiccups.

Since hiccups usually don’t last very long, some remedies may seem like they worked when the spasms actually ended on their own. Concentrating on something else can help you take your mind off the hiccups until they end.

Call your doctor if you can’t stop hiccupping

Hiccups rarely last more than a few hours. If they last several days, contact your doctor.

“Chronic hiccup disorder affects a very small number of people,” Stepp said. “It’s uncomfortable, frustrating and can affect sleep habits and eating.”

Chemotherapy, steroid medications, benzodiazepines and anesthesia occasionally cause long bouts of hiccups. Gastritis, GERD, ulcers and pancreatitis also can make your diaphragm spasm. Hiccups may accompany more serious medical issues like heart problems and cancer, but they aren’t the most troubling symptom.

Your doctor can prescribe chlorpromazine to try to control chronic hiccups. The medication works well for some people but not as well for others, according to Stepp.

“Don’t think about the worst case scenario if you get hiccups,” Stepp said. “They’re annoying and everyone gets them occasionally, but they’re rarely worrisome.”

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