Hiccups 101

Hiccups are a nuisance. And everyone has a new trick for getting rid of them. But what are they, actually?

Hiccups are involuntary contractions of your diaphragm–that small, dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs that helps you breathe. When you have hiccups, contraction of the diaphragm triggers a sudden closure of your vocal cords, which causes that little “hic” that gives the condition its name. There is no obvious cause for hiccups. Like bad luck, they sometimes just happen.

But there are certain triggers that can encourage an attack. They include: a large meal; carbonated drinks; too many alcoholic beverages; being suddenly excited; stress; and experiencing a quick change in temperature.

Unfortunately, there’s no certain cures for the hiccups. While great aunts and complete strangers will suggest all sorts of crazy tricks–from drinking water upside down to scaring the living daylights out of you–it is best to calmly sit down and wait out the onslaught. An average attack lasts only a few minutes.

If you feel stressed, however, some home remedies that could help include breathing into a paper bag, gargling ice water, or just holding your breath.

On rare occasions, hiccups have been known to last as long as 48 hours and, in incredibly rare situations, for months. If your hiccups last more than two days, make an appointment with your doctor.

Prolonged hiccups – while rare — may point to more serious health issues, such as a cyst or tumor in the neck, or something irritating the nerve connected to the diaphragm. While these complications are rare, it’s smart to get checked out to make sure that your symptoms are just a minor health hiccup.

Original publication by Melanie Jay, M.D.

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