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Hiccups

A hiccup is an unintentional movement (spasm) of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs. The spasm is followed by quick closing of the vocal cords, which produces a distinctive sound.

Alternative Names

Singultus

Considerations

Hiccups often start for no apparent reason and usually disappear after a few minutes. In rare cases, hiccups can last for days, weeks, or months. Hiccups are common and normal in newborns and infants.

Common Causes

  • Abdominal surgery
  • Disease or disorder that irritates the nerves that control the diaphragm (such as pleurisy or pneumonia )
  • Hot and spicy foods or liquids
  • Harmful fumes
  • Stroke or tumor affecting the brain

There may be no obvious cause for hiccups.

Home Care

There is no sure way to stop hiccups, but there are a number of common suggestions that can be tried:

  • Breathe repeatedly into a paper bag.
  • Drink a glass of cold water.
  • Eat a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Hold your breath.

Call your health care provider if

Contact your health care provider if hiccups go on for more than a few days.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

If hiccups continue to the point that you visit your health care provider, a medical history will be taken and a physical examination will be performed.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Do you get hiccups easily?
  • How long has this episode of hiccups lasted?
  • Did you recently eat something hot or spicy?
  • Did you recently drink carbonated beverages?
  • Have you been exposed to any fumes?
  • What have you tried to relieve the hiccups?
  • What has been effective for you in the past?
  • How effective was the attempt?
  • Did the hiccups stop for a while and then restart?
  • Do you have other symptoms?

Diagnostic tests are rarely needed unless a disease or disorder is suspected as the cause.

To treat persistent hiccups, the health care provider may perform gastric lavage or massage of the carotid sinus in the neck. Do not try carotid massage by yourself. This must be done by a health care provider.

If hiccups continue, medicines may help. Tube insertion (nasogastric intubation) may also help.

In very rare cases, if medicines or other methods do not work, treatment such as phrenic nerve block may be tried. The phrenic nerve controls the diaphragm.

References

Bilotta F, Rosa G. Symptomatic care pending diagnosis; hiccups. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds. Cohn’s Current Therapy: 2013. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 1.

Updated: 1/22/2013

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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