- A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary contraction (spasm) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
- Common causes of hiccups include eating too quickly, eating or drinking too much, diseases that irritate the nerves that control the diaphragm, abdominal surgery, strokes or brain tumors, noxious fumes, and certain medications.
- Most cases of hiccups resolve themselves in a short period of time and are rarely a medical emergency. See your doctor if hiccups last more than three hours, or if they disturb your eating or sleeping habits.
- Home remedies for hiccups include: holding your breath, drinking a glass of water quickly, pulling hard on your tongue, biting on a lemon, gargling with water, and using smelling salts.
- Rarely, a physician may prescribe medications such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), haloperidol (Haldol), and metoclopramide (Reglan) for severe, persistent hiccups.
- Avoid overeating, eating too quickly, or drinking too much to help prevent hiccups.
What are hiccups?
A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary contraction (spasm) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
Hiccups are often rhythmic. They are usually just a temporary minor annoyance, but prolonged hiccups may signal a major medical problem. The longest recorded hiccup attack is six decades!
Most cases of hiccups do not require medical treatment and will usually stop after a short period of time.
However, some simple techniques may help if your hiccups are particularly troublesome, and medical treatments are available if the problem is long-lasting.
There are a number of things you can try yourself initially that may help to stop your hiccups. These include:
- sipping ice-cold water
- holding your breath for a short period
- biting on a lemon
- swallowing granulated sugar
- tasting vinegar
- breathing into a paper bag (never place a bag over your head)
- pulling your knees up to your chest
- leaning forward to compress your chest
However, while some people do find that these techniques can be helpful, they have not been tested in medical studies and it's not clear how effective they actually are.
Treating long-lasting hiccups
If an underlying health condition is causing your hiccups, treating it may help to resolve the problem.
For example, if you are diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), you may be prescribed a medication called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach.
Some conditions that cause persistent and intractable hiccups may need to be assessed and treated by a specialist. If this is the case, your GP will refer you to the appropriate healthcare professional, who will carry out further investigations and recommend appropriate treatment.
Medication for hiccups
If other treatments have failed, or no underlying cause can be found, your GP may offer you medication to specifically treat your hiccups.
A number of different medications are used to help treat hiccups, although there isn't much high-quality evidence to suggest these are consistently effective.
Some medicines that may be used include:
Your GP will usually prescribe one of these medications for several weeks, during which time they may gradually increase your dose until your hiccups are brought under control. Your dose will then be slowly reduced until you can stop taking the medication.
If your hiccups return as your dose is being reduced or after treatment stops, your GP may recommend increasing your dose again or restarting treatment.
Your GP may suggest trying an alternative medication if the first medicine you try doesn't help to resolve your hiccups.
All the medicines used for hiccups can cause side effects, so make sure you speak to your GP about the potential side effects you may experience before starting treatment.