Hiccups happen to everyone every now and again. However, ones that last more than a few minutes can become irritating and uncomfortable. It helps to know more about hiccups, what causes them and how to stop them before they cause problems.
What are hiccups?
A hiccup is simply an involuntary contraction or spasm of your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that divides your chest from your abdomen. When your diaphragm contracts, your vocal cords close and produce the “hic” sound.
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups can start without any warning. Anxiety and stress can cause them. They’re also the result of many other normal activities, including:
- Becoming excited
- Chewing gum
- Drinking alcohol
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Eating a large meal or eating spicy food
- Experiencing quick temperature changes
- Smelling noxious fumes
- Swallowing too much air
How long should hiccups last?
Most of the time, hiccups only last a few minutes to a few hours. Sometimes they can last for a couple of days.
Though it’s rare, hiccups can continue for months. When this happen, hiccups can disrupt your eating, breathing and sleeping. Hiccups then can become exhausting, painful and cause weight loss. They can also be a warning sign that you need medical attention.
What are chronic hiccups?
Hiccups may be the result of a hidden medical condition or problem. Chronic, persistent hiccups can be a warning of the following:
- Bladder irritation
- Bowel disease
- Esophagus disorder
- Liver cancer
- Neurological damage
- Pleurisy of your diaphragm
- Stomach disorder
- Uremia (kidney damage)
Persistent hiccups could also be a side effect of a medication. Medicines that can cause hiccups include acid reflux drugs, chemotherapy, barbiturates and opioid pain relievers. You may also get hiccups if you’re coming out of anesthesia after a surgery.
Ways to stop the hiccups
Hiccups aren’t considered a medical emergency. If you’ve had the hiccups for a few minutes, there are a few tips you can use to stop them.
Be sure to avoid the myths though. You’ll rarely cure the problem by having someone come up behind you to scare your hiccups away. Instead, you can stimulate the nerves near your diaphragm to end hiccups.
Try the following:
- Breathe in slow, measured breaths — in for a count of five and out for a count of five
- Compress your chest by leaning forward to put pressure on your diaphragm
- Dissolve a spoonful of sugar, peanut butter or honey in your mouth and swallow it
- Drink a glass of water fast
- Gargle with vinegar (or put a drop on your tongue)
- Hold your breath
- Hug your knees to your chest for a couple of minutes
- Massage your carotid artery (the side of your neck) in a circular motion for a few seconds
- Pull hard on your tongue
- Squeeze the middle of your palm with the thumb of your opposite hand
- Suck on a lemon
- Suck on an ice cube or gargle with ice water
If these home remedies haven’t stopped your hiccups and they’ve lasted more than 48 hours, it’s time to contact your primary care provider. They should be able to prescribe a medication to stop your hiccups or refer you to a specialist.
Want to talk to a primary care provider from the comfort of your own home? Learn more about the virtual visit options we offer at Bon Secours.