Hiccups: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Hiccups refer to an involuntary muscle contraction in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a smooth sheet of muscles that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. In medicine, hiccup is called “Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter” or SDF.

The contraction of the diagram causes a sharp intake of breath followed by 0.25 seconds of closure of the vocal cords. This causes the characteristic sound of hiccups. Hiccups can occur individually or in regular bouts. The rhythm of the hiccup will remain constant. Usually, a bout of hiccups isn’t a cause of health concern at all. The symptoms will go away on their own. But there are home remedies that may help shorten the duration of hiccups. In severe cases of hiccups, medical treatment is required.

Types of Hiccups

There are two types of hiccups: persistent and intractable hiccups.

A bout of hiccups that lasts for several minutes to a couple of hours is called persistent hiccups. This condition is perfectly normal.

But there are some cases wherein the attack lasts for weeks, even months! A bout of hiccups that last for more than a month is called intractable hiccups. This condition is extremely rare. It causes exhaustion, weight loss, lack of sleep and a dull pain near the diaphragm area. If you suffer from frequent hiccups, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If you suspect this, consult your doctor right away.

Causes of Hiccups

While there are many likely causes of hiccups, scientists have yet to pin down the true cause of this occurrence. Usually, a bout of hiccups occurs when a person has a full stomach. This could be caused by swallowing food too quickly, drinking too much alcohol or swallowing too much air.

Smoking, dropping temperature as well as drinking hot and cold drinks may increase the likelihood of hiccups. Stress, excitement, and anxiety are also a precursor to a bout of hiccups.

Certain types of medical conditions also cause bouts of hiccups. These conditions include cancer, infections, central nervous system disorders or injuries. If the body is unable to process certain chemicals, it could cause hiccups along with hyperventilation. Metabolic problems and kidney diseases cause hiccups too. Anesthesia, irritation of the neck, chest or head nerves, as well as some mental health problems, could result in persistent bouts of hiccups.

Treating and Preventing Hiccups

There are many ways to reduce the duration or eliminate hiccups. These treatments include home remedies.

Holding your breath for ten seconds then coughing should prevent a bout of hiccups. Drinking a glass of water also helps. Eating a teaspoon of honey or sugar is traditionally used to eliminate hiccups. Some say that peeing also stops hiccups! All these treatments should work for persistent hiccups. But if you suffer from intractable hiccups you might need medical help.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of intractable hiccups. Alternative healing methods like acupuncture, hypnosis and reflexology could be used to control severe hiccups. However, it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have hiccups that lasts for several days to a month.

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