Why do we get hiccups?

Hiccups are caused when the diaphragm contracts involuntarily. Larynx also contracts and the glottis gets closed which causes the arrest of the inflow of air. Hiccups can be best described as jerky, incomplete inhalation of air. In this there is a spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm.  Sometimes hiccups result because of mild stomach upsets. At times psychogenic reasons also play a role in inducing hiccups. Most of the time hiccups do not need any medicines. They disappear on their own within a short time span.


Drinking water helps in Hiccups (Image source: sxc.hu)


Hiccups start when the body tries to protect itself. For example when hot and spicy food irritates the phrenic nerve near esophagus, hiccups occur. The diaphragm will separate the stomach from the chest when gas in the stomach pushes upward. Then the diaphragm will get tightened and the air is pulled into the lungs, and that is why do we get hiccups. Hiccups are reflex in nature and the sound is heard because the air cannot escape and a bumpy feeling is felt. Hasty swallowing of food, consumption of alcohol and stress also bring in hiccups.


  • Normal home remedies like drinking water while holding the breath, inflicting fright or shock, changing breathing pattern will give relief to the problem of hiccups. Consuming a teaspoon of sugar also helps in some cases.
  • During the times of Plato, in a book written by him, there is information that the physician treated hiccups by asking the person to hold his breath and if they still persist, the person was advised to gargle and to provoke sneezing.
  • When hiccups occur because of electrolyte imbalance, consuming a carbonated beverage will prove beneficial as the sodium and potassium levels are balanced.
  • There is a case in Japan when a three year old girl faced this problem, intranasal vinegar was administered and it worked well.



Continuous hiccups may occur when the person is suffering from metabolic diseases like kidney failure, diabetes, deviated septum and electrolyte imbalance. Hiccups can result if the person is suffering from infections related to CLD and Pneumonia. Persons with Central Nervous System disorders like meningitis, tumours, encephalitis or traumatic brain injury may also face continuous hiccups. Even in nerve damage condition like Goiter, Cysts, Gastroesophagal reflux and Vagus and phrenic nerve involvement, hiccups may occur.


  • There are medicines like Gabapentin, Chlorpromazine, Baclofen and Metoclopramide. Proton pump inhibitors are also used. In medical cases where the person suffers from other disease, if the underlying cause is treated, hiccups will disappear on their own.
  • Medicines like Haloperidol that acts a sedative and an anti-psycotic, Metoclopramide which works like a gastrointestinal stimulant, Chloropromazine an anti-psychotic which has powerful sedative effect are used to treat uncontrollable hiccups. But the drawback of these medicines is that the person will be unconscious or highly drowsy.
  • A neurosurgeon Dr,Bryan R.Payne conducted experiments in which a vagus nerve, (one of the nerves paired in cranial nerves of the brain) stimulator was attached to the chest in patients who suffered from persistent hiccups. The stimulator send rhythmic electricity bursts to the brain through the vagus nerve. The Food and Administration of USA gave approval for this stimualtor in 1997.


  • Charles Osborne, an American suffered from hiccups for almost 68 years. His name is recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records as the man who had hiccups for longest time duration.
  • A teenage girl in Florida became famous through media for getting hiccups of around 50 times per minute which continued for five weeks.
  • When Christian Sands a Briton had hiccups of about 10 million times, which lasted for 15 months between February 2007 to May 2009. It was later discovered that he suffered from brain tumour. He came out of the problem after he was operated in 2009.
  • In Indian folklore, people believe that one gets hiccups if someone is talking about the person experiencing hiccups. This belief is also wide spread in the world in several countries.


Though it looks like a simple problem, if hiccups do not disappear within a short span of time, they cause restlessness and bring about uncomfortable feelings in the person. For continuous hiccups, the problem should be addressed at the earliest.

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