Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Dealing with hiccups

Published:Wednesday | October 5, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Hiccups (also spelled hiccoughs) is a reflex caused by a sudden contraction of the diaphragm, the tent-like muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and which controls the movement of air in and out of your lungs. A hiccup occurs when the diaphragm strongly contracts, and the glottis, a structure at the upper end of the windpipe, at the same time closes to cause the typical 'hic' sound. A hiccup is a reflex that you cannot control, and unlike other reflexes like coughing and sneezing, it does not seem to have any beneficial purpose.

Occasional hiccups

For no obvious reason, most people occasionally have bouts of hiccups that last a short while, then stop. This may be due to several factors like a distended stomach caused by overeating, or eating too fast and swallowing air, or drinking carbonated soft drinks. Also consuming very hot or cold food or drinks, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes or sudden excitement or emotional stress.

Persistent hiccups

(lasting days)

Persistent hiccups are rare and suggest underlying illness. More than 100 diseases are known to cause hiccups and there are usually other symptoms apart from the hiccups present. In some cases, no apparent cause is found, but persistent hiccups can become very exhausting, debilitating and distressing.

Causes include conditions irritating the diaphragm itself or general conditions like stomach and intestine disorders, pregnancy, kidney failure, pneumonia, liver, gall bladder and pancreatic disease and heart attacks. Brain damage, stroke and surgery may also be responsible.

Certain medicines such as steroids, tranquillisers, opiate painkillers like morphine and some blood pressure medicines are other possible causes.

Changes in blood chemistry such as from alcohol, elevated blood sugar, or lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium in the blood are other culprits.

Treatment for hiccups

Most cases need no treatment as bouts of hiccups usually stop on their own. But if you have prolonged hiccups or if you have frequently recurring short bouts of hiccups, then have a medical evaluation to look for the cause. Treating the underlying cause may cure the hiccups.

In one research study involving individuals with persistent hiccups, over two-thirds of them had digestive problems mostly acid reflux (GERD). Treatment of the acid reflux stopped the hiccups in most cases. Various medicines that relax the diaphragm are used to treat hiccups. Alternative treatments like acupuncture and reflexology has also been found useful.

Home remedies

Black pepper:

Inhaling black pepper powder can be used to induce sneezing. Sneezing is a violent reflex of the respiratory system that can interrupt hiccups.


Because of its powerful taste, slowly swallowing a tablespoonful of mustard seeds mixed into olive or coconut oil helps to reduce hiccups.

Cardamom is another spice used to manage hiccups. Half a teaspoon of cardamom powder boiled in a cupful of water can be strained and then drunk.

Breathing fast or holding the breath, or breathing into a paper bag are other simple options.

A special technique called the Valsalva maneuvers may also work. The Valsalva manoeuvre involves trying to force your breath out while you hold your throat and voice box closed. To do this, take a deep breath in and hold the air inside while straining as if to force the air out. This is like pushing during childbirth or straining on the toilet.

Drinking water can also help to reduce minor hiccups. The water should be drunk in fast gulps, without stopping to breathe.

Also, sudden jerking movements of the neck and the chest help to reduce hiccups. Giving someone a sudden fright is another remedy. The shock may often stop the hiccups.

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