You will probably have had hiccups (also known as hiccoughs) at some time. They can be annoying but are not usually serious and typically go away after a while. If hiccups go on for longer than 2 days, they are considered ‘persistent’ or long-lasting, and can interfere with eating and sleeping.
How hiccups occur
Hiccups occur when your diaphragm, the thin muscle between your chest and abdomen, suddenly and involuntarily contracts or tightens, causing a sharp intake of breath. When this happens, you quickly close your vocal cords, which produces the ‘hiccup’ sound.
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups may start and stop without any obvious reason. However, some things increase your chances of having hiccups including:
- overeating, or eating too quickly
- spicy foods
- hot or fizzy drinks
- stress, fear or excitement
In rare cases, hiccups that last for days or weeks may be caused by an underlying condition, or by some medications. Some of the underlying conditions are:
- gastro-oesophageal reflux (GORD) or heartburn
- pneumonia or asthma
- brain injury (such as from trauma, a stroke or a tumour)
- central nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and stroke
- metabolic disorders, such as diabetes
Medications that have been associated with hiccups include:
- anaesthetics (medications given before and during surgery that causes a loss of consciousness)
- corticosteroids (which may be used to reduce inflammation)
- chemotherapy (cancer treatment)
- some medicines for anxiety, pain, high blood pressure and seizures
Long-lasting hiccups can cause discomfort and pain, disrupt sleeping and eating, and may cause anxiety or depression.
How to stop hiccups
In most cases, an episode of hiccups will stop all on its own after a few minutes. You can try the following, although none of these have been proven to stop hiccups:
- holding your breath for a short period
- sipping cold water
- breathing into a paper bag
Other unproven remedies including biting on a lemon and getting a fright.
If your hiccups last longer than 2 days, see your doctor. If an underlying condition is causing your hiccups, treating it may help.
A number of medications, and also acupuncture treatments, have been used to treat long-lasting hiccups. However, it is not clear how well these treatments work.
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Last reviewed: August 2019