Hiccups result from involuntary diaphragm contractions. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the abdomen from your chest and plays a vital role in your breathing process.
Upon each contraction, the vocal cords are suddenly closed, this resulting in a ‘hic’ sound or a hiccup.
Hiccups generally occur due to having large meals or having alcoholic drinks. Sometimes sudden excitement can also bring rise to hiccups. Occasionally, hiccups may indicate an underlying medical condition. In most cases, hiccups are not a cause for concern and go away with a few minutes. Only on rare occasions do hiccups last for months, which can cause exhaustion and malnutrition in people.
Signs and symptoms
The only sign for hiccups is the characteristic sound you get. However, occasionally you may have a symptom such as a subtle tightening of your chest, throat or abdomen that occurs before the ‘hic’.
When to seek medical attention
See your doctor if hiccups persist for more than 48 hours or if they are interrupting your sleep or stopping you from eating or breathing properly.
Causes for short-term hiccups typically include:
- Eating too much
- Drinking too much alcohol or carbonated drinks
- Sudden changes in temperature
- Emotional stress or excitement
Hiccups may last for more than 48 hours. In such cases, they are usually classified into the following types:
- Nerve damage/irritation
Factors that may result in irritation of nerves include:
- Laryngitis or sore throat
- A small fragment or a hair is touching your eardrum
- Goiter, a tumor or cyst in your neck
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Disorders of the central nervous system
An infection, tumor or damage in the central nervous system can result in problems in controlling hiccup reflexes. Examples of such problems include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain damage
- Drugs and metabolic disorders
Examples that result in long-term hiccups include:
- Electrolyte imbalances
In most cases, hiccups go away without the need for medical treatment. However, if a medical condition leads to hiccups, treatment is necessary to eliminate the problem.
If hiccups last for more than 48 hours, the following treatment options may be recommended:
- Medications such as antipsycotics, antinausea dugs and muscle relaxants
- Surgery. If neoconservative treatment and medications don’t work, the doctor may administer an anesthetic to block the phrenic nerve and eliminate hiccups. Surgery includes implanting a battery-operated device to stimulate the vagus nerve.
There is no fail-safe method to treat hiccups; the following approaches may provide relief:
- Gargle using ice water
- Breathe into a paper bag
- Hold your breath for a few seconds
- Take a few sips of cold water
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