Definition and Causes of Hiccups

hiccupsHiccups is dysfunctional or out-of-sequence contractions (spasms) of the diaphragm.

It generally occur rhythmically in episodes that typically contain four to several dozen contractions. An individual tends to have a personally consistent pattern.

Though doctors know the mechanics of hiccups, no one knows what it causes or what, if any, purpose they serve. For most people hiccups are nothing more than an annoyance. However, prolonged attacks can have health consequences.

There is no certain cure for hiccups, though recommended remedies are abundant. Some remedies, such as swallowing a spoonful of sugar or sniffing an ammonia capsule, irritate the airways. Swallowing ice water may activate nerves in the esophagus that diffuse the nerve impulses causing the diaphragm to contract.

Breathing into a paper bag raises the percentage of carbon dioxide in the blood, which alters the brain signals to the diaphragm. It is important that any prospective cure carry little risk of causing harm.


Doctors may treat persistent hiccups with medications that are mildly sedating, such as antiseizure or anticholinergic medications. A mild anesthetic may slow the signals from the brainstem. Mild muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants are also successful in some people.

Extended hiccups may result in vasovagal nerve irritation that causes arrhythmia (irregularities in the heartbeat). In most circumstances of prolonged hiccups, treating underlying health conditions stops the dysfunctional.


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