The Lamen


by | Jan 26, 2023

You might be an extremely rare individual if you have not experienced a hiccup in your lifetime. While they usually go away on their own in a few minutes, hiccups can persist for months on rare occasions.

Nonetheless, they are extremely obtrusive and can interfere with talking or your meals.

Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of the diaphragm – resulting in a characteristic “hic” sound. Hiccups can be caused by a large meal, carbonated beverages, sudden excitement, or stress.

What causes hiccups?

Hiccups are repetitive, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, which medical professionals refer to as a myoclonic jerk.

The diaphragm is a thin, dome-shaped sheet of muscle that extends across the bottom of your thoracic cavity. It separates the lungs from the abdomen and is an integral part of respiration. The diaphragm contracts and expands to draw in and expel air out of your lungs.

It’s when the diaphragm contracts out of rhythm that hiccups occur. This can be a single incidence, or it may occur in bouts. The spasm causes a rapid intake of air, which is then suddenly stopped by the closure of your vocal cords. This causes the characteristic “hic” sound of hiccups.

Hiccups occur abruptly, and you cannot predict when you might catch them. Bouts of hiccups can last as little as a minute to a few minutes, and go away on their own.

Hiccups in children

A bar graph for the breast cancer rates among women of different ethnicities.

Credits: The Lamen

Hiccups can occur to anyone, and at any age – even infants still in utero. Because toddlers are yet to gain complete control over their reflexes, they are more prone to hiccups.

They can be caused by simply swallowing too much air, eating a large meal, or sudden changes in body temperature or pressure – all of which are extremely common for toddlers and young children.

There are certain easy home remedies to help a child if hiccups are making them feel uncomfortable.

  • Hold your breath. Tell the child to hold their breath and slowly count to 10.
  • A quick gulp. Quickly drink a glass of cold water to soothe the diaphragm.
  • Focus on breathing. Give the child a paper bag and ask them to focus on deep breaths.
  • Massage the upper stomach. Gently press on your child’s upper stomach area, massaging in downward motions.
  • Tickle, scare, or surprise your child. Tickling your child or suddenly scaring them can often make hiccups go away immediately.
  • Granulated sugar. Eat a teaspoon of granulated sugar.

If your child experiences pain or discomfort from the hiccups, or if the hiccups last for a (relatively) long time, call your child’s doctor.

Does stress cause hiccups?

Some people might contract hiccups simply if they are excited, surprised, or frightened. A stressful event can manifest as excitement or shock and can cause a change in your breathing pattern because of a simple gasp. This can cause your diaphragm to spasm, resulting in hiccups.

Both children and adults can experience hiccups as a result of a stressful event. In most cases, these bouts go away simply by controlling your breath, which includes:

  • holding your breath for a few seconds, until it becomes slightly hard
  • breathing deeply into a paper bag
  • gargling or drinking very cold water

A small-scale study found that children and adults can develop hiccups due to psychological stress – also called psychogenic hiccups. It suggests that hiccups could be a sign of underlying psychological stress or conditions like anxiety.

Long-term hiccups

Depending on the duration of a bout of hiccups, they can be classified into different categories:

  • transient hiccups – lasting seconds to minutes
  • persistent hiccups – lasting longer than 48 hours
  • recurrent hiccups – long-lasting, even over a month, and repeat frequently

While a rare occurrence, people can develop chronic hiccups. According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), less than 50,000 people experience chronic hiccups in the U.S.

They can result in exhaustion, loss of sleep, and weight loss. Chronic hiccups might not have an apparent cause, or might be related to some underlying health condition.

The hiccup reflex is caused by the diaphragm moving out of rhythm. Within the spinal cord, the “hiccup center” is located somewhere between the C3 and C5 cervical vertebrae.

If any of the nerves in this cycle are irritated, they may cause spasms of the diaphragm, which may result in chronic hiccups.

Conditions like pneumonia, which cause inflammation of the respiratory system, might also cause chronic hiccups.

Another reason for this might be some damage to the brain, like from a stroke or injury. This could cause your nervous system to not function properly, which could result in involuntary actions like hiccups.

Other conditions that may lead to chronic hiccups include:

  • brain lesions
  • tumors
  • hepatitis
  • appendicitis
  • stomach ulcers
  • Crohn’s disease
  • other intestinal or liver diseases
  • kidney disorders
  • uremic poisoning

Chronic hiccups might also be caused as a result of surgery or medication used during surgery. In some cases, the cause may even go unidentified.

Chronic hiccups don’t go away with simple home remedies and can require some professional help. The research on effective treatment for chronic hiccups is limited.

Treatments may differ based on the diagnosed cause, and may include:

  • treating the underlying health condition
  • acupuncture
  • drug therapy, including medications like chlorpromazine, haloperidol, and metoclopramide
  • if hiccups occur during anesthesia or surgery, ephedrine or ketamine may be used for treatment
  • injections to the phrenic nerve in surgical procedures

Chronic hiccups might be a result of an issue involving the autonomic nervous system – which is responsible for the body’s involuntary reflexes like breathing or heartbeat. Therefore, it requires a proper diagnosis to single out the issue.

8 home remedies to get rid of hiccups

In the majority of cases, hiccups go away on their own within a few minutes. Therefore, ignoring hiccups is usually the best thing you can do.

However, certain ways have been known to get rid of these hiccups, although much of it lacks any scientific evidence.

  • Take deep, controlled breaths. Hiccups are usually caused by disruptions in your respiratory rhythm. Controlling your breath, therefore, may help in bringing things back under control. Breathe in for about 5 seconds, followed by holding your breath in for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat this a couple of times.
  • Applying pressure on your upper stomach. Massaging your upper stomach and applying some pressure on your diaphragm can help.
  • Drinking cold or ice water. Cold water may help relieve the irritation caused in the diaphragm that causes hiccups and could help stimulate the vagus nerve.
  • Gargling with cold water. Your vagus nerve is the nerve that allows communication between your brain and your stomach. When the vagus nerve is distracted by an activity like gargling, it may help distract your body from the hiccups.
  • Slowly eat some granulated sugar. Similar to gargling, granulated sugar could help distract your brain hiccups. Simply put a small teaspoon of sugar on your tongue and let it sit there for a few seconds. Then swallow.
  • Bite into a lemon. Suck on a lemon wedge for a few seconds. The high acid content in lemon could disrupt your esophagus, which could help get rid of the spasms.
  • Blow up a balloon with the full force of your lungs.
  • Distract yourself, or surprise someone. Doing something engaging like playing a video game or outdoor sports can often take your mind off hiccups. Suddenly scaring someone may also help get rid of their hiccups.

Certain yoga practices like Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) and Pranayama may also help in relieving hiccups. In case your hiccups don’t go away on their own or after performing these remedies, you might want to see a doctor. Your hiccups might be indicative of some underlying issue, like acid reflux or some chronic respiratory disease.


Hiccups are annoying, and a major inconvenience at times. Catching a case of hiccups before a speech at school or before a big meeting can make things embarrassing really quick. Even more, annoying, however, is a long-term episode of hiccups.

If your hiccups don’t go away quickly, they can disrupt your mood, sleeping patterns, and appetite. Nobody wants to talk or eat while constantly being interrupted by themselves.

Over time, this can lead to:

  • mood disruptions
  • exhaustion
  • lack of sleep
  • dehydration
  • weight loss
  • malnutrition

In most instances, these complications may never arise. If you do, however, experience any of the following, you should consult a doctor to avoid the issues from developing any further.

Should you see a doctor for hiccups?

If your hiccups don’t go away by themselves or keep coming back, you may be experiencing chronic hiccups. In such cases, you should consult with a doctor.

While rare, some medical conditions can cause hiccups. These could be related to digestive issues, more serious health conditions involving the central nervous system, or even a tumor.

Chronic hiccups could indicate:

  • nerve damage
  • meningitis
  • multiple sclerosis
  • stroke
  • pneumonia
  • traumatic brain injury

In most cases, doctors prescribe the following medications for hiccups:

  • chlorpromazine
  • gabapentin
  • baclofen
  • metoclopramide

Hiccups can also happen after surgery or during the recovery from one. Your doctor may ask about any previous health conditions, a physical examination, and some imaging tests in serious cases or if there’s anything of concern.

In a nutshell

Hiccups are a common occurrence, caused by a spasm in the muscles between the ribs and the diaphragm – the muscle responsible for breathing.

It can be triggered due to a variety of reasons, from simply breathing in too quickly to something serious, like pneumonia or a stroke.

In rare cases, hiccups can last longer than 48 hours, which are called persistent hiccups. If you cannot relieve them by simply home treatment, it might be time to see a doctor.