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 two days, they are considered ‘persistent’ or long-lasting, and can interfere with eating and sleeping.
How hiccups occur
Everybody has a diaphragm, a thin muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen.
Hiccups occur when your diaphragm 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 do 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)
- nerve damage
- metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.
Medications that have been associated with hiccups include:
- anaesthesia (medication given before 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 two 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.
Last reviewed: July 2015