Hiccups - Causes | Risk Factors | Treatment | Complications | Prevention
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Hiccups - Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment, Complications and Prevention

Published on Apr 13, 2022 and last reviewed on Feb 22, 2023   -  5 min read


Have you ever wondered why hiccups occur? Though they occur and vanish naturally, persistent hiccups are definitely a threat.


Hiccups are the contractions of the diaphragm muscle that occur in a repetitive and uncontrolled fashion. The diaphragm is the muscle that is present just below the lungs and demarcates the chest from the abdomen.

It helps regulate breathing as its contraction helps in the intake of oxygen, and its relaxation helps in expelling the carbon dioxide. When the diaphragm contracts out of rhythm, it causes hiccups. The medical term for hiccups is singultus.

How Does It Occur?

Most of the time, hiccups begin and stop abruptly, and there is no associated reason. These episodes last only for a few minutes and then stop on their own. Persistent hiccups are those that last longer than 48 hours. If the hiccups last longer than two months, they are considered difficult to manage.

What Causes Hiccups?Hiccups

Some of the possible causes for hiccups that last short term include:

  • Overeating.
  • Eating very hot or very cold foods.

  • Consumption of spicy food.

  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Consumption of carbonated beverages, like sodas.Various causes can be associated with hiccups, although there is no proven specific cause for the same.
  • Any sudden change occurring in air temperature.

  • Excitement.

  • Stress (emotional stress).

Long-lasting hiccups, usually more than 48 hours, are classified based on the irritant that causes them. Most of the cases get hiccups due to irritation of the nerve that supplies the diaphragm, and the causes include the following:

  • Eardrum irritation.

  • Goiter.

  • Throat irritation.

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

  • Tumor or cyst in the esophagus.

Other causes include CNS (central nervous system) disorder which may lead to uncoordinated effects in the body. Following are some of the CNS damages that may contribute to hiccups:

Long-lasting hiccups can be due to the following causes:

  • Alcohol and tobacco overuse.

  • Post-surgical reaction to anesthesia.

  • Consumption of certain drugs like steroids and tranquilizers.

  • Kidney failure.

  • Diabetes.

  • Malformations of arteriovenous flow.

  • Electrolytic imbalance.

  • Cancer.

  • Chemotherapy.

Sometimes, even it can be iatrogenic, that is, due to certain procedures like:

  • Catheter usage to reach heart muscles.

  • Esophageal stent placement.

  • Tracheostomy.

  • Bronchoscopy.

What Are The Risk Factors For Hiccups?

Hiccups can occur in anyone and at any age, even in a fetus. But, the following factors can put a person at risk of developing it more commonly than others:

  • Male.

  • Intense emotions and anxiety.

  • People who have received general anesthesia.

  • Post-surgery, especially abdominal surgery.

What Tests Help Identify the Cause of Persistent Hiccups?

When you visit your physician for persistent and irritating hiccups, certain tests may be performed along with history taking and physical examination, which are as follows:

  1. Blood tests.

  2. LFT - Liver function tests.

  3. Chest X-ray.

  4. CT (computed tomography) scan.

  5. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

  6. Endoscopy.

  7. Echocardiogram.

  8. Bronchoscopy.

How Can Hiccups Be Treated?

Most of the time, hiccups are not an emergency, but if it is prolonged in nature, they may cause discomfort in day-to-day life. It is advisable to contact your physician in case you have hiccups for more than 48 hours to get it diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

There are various ways to manage hiccups. The short-term hiccups take care of their own, but long-term hiccups may require certain management. Certain home remedies can be tried to stop it, but they are not proven methods. The following are the methods that can be tried at home:

  • Breathing into a paper bag.

  • Consumption of one teaspoon of granulated sugar.

  • Holding the breath.

  • Consumption of one glass of cold water.

  • Pulling the tongue.

  • Lifting the uvula with a spoon.

  • Purposefully gasping or belching.

  • Bringing the knees to the chest and maintaining this position for some time.

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Close your mouth and nose and exhale forcefully.

  • Relaxing and breathing in a slow and controlled manner.

Hiccups that exist longer than 48 hours require medical consultation, and the doctor may go ahead with gastric lavage, which is stomach pumping, or carotid sinus massage, which is nothing but rubbing the main carotid artery in the neck.

The main treatment of hiccups lies in managing or treating the underlying cause. If there is no obvious cause, it can be managed using certain anti-hiccups medications like:

  • Chlorpromazine and Haloperidol.

  • Benzodiazepines.

  • Gabapentin.

  • Benadryl.

  • Baclofen.

  • Nifedipine.

Sometimes, invasive procedures may also be required, which are as follows:

  1. Nasogastric intubation. In this, there is the insertion of a tube into the stomach via the nose).

  2. Blocking the phrenic nerve using anesthetic medication.

Also, a diaphragmatic pacemaker can be implanted surgically. It is a battery-powered device helping in stimulating the diaphragm and regulating breathing.

Are There Any Complications?

Yes, long term hiccups may cause certain complications, which are as follows:

  1. Difficulty sleeping.

  2. Malnutrition.

  3. Tiredness or exhaustion.

  4. Loss of weight.

  5. Dehydration.

What Are the Ways to Prevent Hiccups?

As such, there are no proven ways to prevent hiccups, but the following methods can be followed to prevent the triggers that can cause hiccups:

  1. Avoid overeating.

  2. Avoiding the consumption of carbonated beverages.

  3. Self-protection from sudden changes in temperature.

  4. Avoiding the consumption of alcohol.

  5. Stay calm. Avoid intense emotion, anger, or anxiety.


Hiccups are normal but persistent hiccups can lead to disruption in normal life. Also, if not managed on time, it may cause certain complications. It is important to consult your physician in case of any doubts or if you are suffering from continuous hiccups. Online medical platforms have made the consultation process easy. Hence, consult a specialist or physician to know more about hiccups.

Frequently Asked Questions


Hot to Stop Hiccups?

Some common measures to stop hiccups are as follows:
- Hold your breath for a few seconds.
- Bite a lemon or taste a few drops of vinegar.
- Breathe into a paper bag.
- Sip a glass of ice-cold water.
- Eat some granulated sugar.
- Lean forward and bend your knees to your chest.


How to Help My Baby Stop Hiccups?

You can help your baby from hiccups through some of the following steps:
- Try giving your baby some gripe water.
- Stop feeding. Give your little one a small break from feeding. This will help your baby burp, which gets rid of excess air.
- Let your baby get rid of their own hiccups (give them some time).
- Use a pacifier.


How Do We Get a Hiccup?

Hiccup is caused due to involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. This muscle separates your chest and stomach and plays a major role in breathing. When these involuntary contractions happen, it causes your vocal cord to close briefly, resulting in hiccups.


Why Do Babies Get Hiccups?

Babies often get hiccups, the exact cause is unknown, but it may be due to gas trapped in excess in the stomach.


Can Any Condition Cause Frequent Hiccups?

Yes, some health conditions like pleurisy of the diaphragm, uremia, pneumonia, alcoholism, disorders of the stomach, and bowel diseases can cause frequent hiccups.


How Long Do Hiccups Last?

Usually, hiccups last for about an hour or two. But in rare instances, hiccups can last for a day or two. In such cases, consult a doctor immediately.


Can Acid Reflux Cause Hiccups?

Eating too fast or drinking too fast, excessive alcohol intake, and heartburn can cause hiccups.


Are There Any Advantages to Hiccups?

A normal person experiences hiccups several times in their lives, just like sneezing. But unlike sneezing, which helps in clearing up the nasal passages, hiccups do not usually show any benefits.


When to See a Doctor Regarding Hiccups?

Hiccups do not usually cause any complications, and they do not require any medical treatments. In rare instances, if hiccups last for more than three hours or if you experience hiccups often, consult your doctor.


Are Hiccups Related to Heart Problems?

No, hiccups are almost never related to heart problems, nor do they denote heart attacks.


Can a Person Have Hiccups While Sleeping?

Yes, recent studies show that a person can have hiccups while they are asleep.


Who Has Had Hiccups for the Longest Time?

An American, Charles Osborne, is known to have hiccups for the longest period in the world’s history for 68 years, and he got a Guinness award for it.


Can Stress Cause Hiccups?

Yes, certain emotional and mental states like anxiety and excitement can cause short-term to long-term hiccups.


When Can a Mother Feel Their Baby’s Hiccup Inside the Womb?

A mother can notice her baby’s hiccups during her second or third trimester.

Last reviewed at:
22 Feb 2023  -  5 min read




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