Definition Hiccups are a sound produced by an unintentional movement of the diaphragm, followed by rapid closing of the vocal cords. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity.
What is going on in the body? Hiccups can develop when a stimulus triggers the nerves that contract the diaphragm. Air is then inhaled involuntarily. This lowers the diaphragm and allows bursts of air into the lungs. The air closes the vocal cords and creates the characteristic hiccup sound.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? A doctor may ask someone with continued hiccups a number of questions. These might include:
How often does the person gets hiccups?
How long do the episodes last?
Has the person recently eaten hot or spicy foods?
Has the person recently had carbonated drinks?
Has the person been exposed to any fumes?
What has the person done to try to relieve the hiccups?
What has worked to relieve hiccups in the past?
Are there any other symptoms?
Does the person have any other medical conditions?
What are the causes and risks of the condition? The cause of the diaphragm contractions is unknown. The condition can be related to:
Sometimes hiccups are a complication of a condition, such as pneumonia. They may occur following chest or stomach surgery. A brain tumour or stroke can interfere with the breathing centre in the brain and cause hiccups.
What can be done to prevent the condition? A person who is prone to hiccups should:
How is the condition diagnosed? If hiccups continue for so long that the person visits a doctor, a medical history and physical examination are done. Tests are not needed unless a disease or disorder is suspected as the cause.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? Most bouts of hiccups are harmless. They begin suddenly, usually without any obvious cause. They usually stop after several seconds or minutes. Frequent, prolonged attacks of hiccups, which are extremely rare, may lead to severe exhaustion.
What are the risks to others? Hiccups are not contagious, and pose no risk to others.
What are the treatments for the condition? Most of the remedies for the occasional bout of hiccups are based on altering the flow of air passing through the vocal cords. A person may be able to stop ordinary hiccups by breathing deeply or by holding his or her breath for a short time. Breathing into a paper bag may also be helpful.
Most cases of hiccups go away on their own. Some natural or home remedies that may help speed the process include:
squirting lemon juice to the back of the throat
sucking on slices of fresh lemon
sipping water and honey
Medical treatments are rarely needed. One of several medications may be used in cases of prolonged hiccups. These include scopolamine, prochlorperazine, chlorpromazine, baclofen, metoclopramide, and valproate.
What are the side effects of the treatments? Side effects depend on the medication used, but may include dry mouth and allergic reaction.
What happens after treatment for the condition? The person can go back to usual activities after an ordinary bout of hiccups. If an underlying condition is causing the hiccups, it may need to be treated.
How is the condition monitored? The person can monitor hiccups at home, and should tell the health care doctor about any new or worsening symptoms.
Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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