What Causes Hiccups?

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What Causes Hiccups?

Hiccups that some people spell as hiccough are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle. They occur suddenly thus causing worry about the cause. These muscles contractions (spasms) snap shut and produce the hiccup sound.

The medical term for hiccups is synchronous diaphragmatic flutter or singultus. In physiology terms, hiccups occur when the diaphragm suddenly contracts involuntarily and simultaneously, the voice box contracts. The vocal folds close as well, and these 3 actions block the flow of air.

Often, hiccups are periodic hence just cause a temporary minor annoyance. Hiccups can prolong, but this could be a signal of another major medical problem or a wonder.

 Hiccups usually stop after a few minutes or hours. Those that last longer than 2 days are known as persistent hiccups. Intractable hiccups are those that continue for over a month and are very rare. If hiccups last this long, they may cause other issues like exhaustion, weight loss and lack of sleep.

 The longest period of hiccuping lasted for 68 continuous years. Charles Osborne for Athona Iowa who was born in 1894 got his name if the Guinness World Records for hiccupping from 1922 to 1990.  He got hiccups lasting up to 40 times for a minute before slowing to 20 in his last year.

 All effort to stop the problems through several surgeries did not succeed. The problem stopped naturally in 1990 a year before his death.

Lifestyle  Causes of Hiccups

 The common triggers of hiccups lasting less than 48 hours are:

  • Overeating
  • Drinking carbonated beverages or too much alcohol
  • Sudden temperature change  in the stomach after drinking or eating
  • Emotional stress or excitement
  • Swallowing air when sucking on candy or chewing gum
  • Spicy foods
  • Smoking
  • Drinking or eating too quickly
  • Extreme emotions  including excitement, grief, stress, anxiety, shock or hysterical behaviour

Hiccups that last more than 48 hours occur due to various reasons that you can group into these categories.

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Central nervous disorders

 An infection or a tumor on the central nervous system or damage to the CNS because of trauma may disrupt the normal body control of hiccup reflex.  Examples that make the CNS affect disrupt hiccup reflex include:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Tumors
  • Traumatic brain injury

Nerve irritation or damage

 Damage or irritation to the phrenic or vagus nerves that act as diaphragm muscle could be a cause or long-term hiccups.  Factors that damage or irritate these nerves are:

  • Hair or something else touching the eardrum from inside the ear
  • Cyst, goitre or tumor in the neck
  • A sore throat or laryngitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux

Drugs and Metabolic Disorders

These conditions trigger long-term hiccups:


  • Steroids
  • Barbiturates
  • Anaesthesia
  • Tranquillizers
  • Alcoholism
  • Electrolyte imbalance

Metabolic Disorders

  • Some Gastrointestinal conditions including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) small bowel obstruction and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Conditions irritating the vagus nerve, e.g., pharyngitis and meningitis
  • Kidney and liver problems
  • Respiratory conditions like pneumonia, asthma or pleurisy of the diaphragm
  • Damage due to cancer or side effects of treatment, e.g., chemotherapy

Risk Factors for Hiccups

 Being is a man a risk factor for long-term hiccups as they get more of them than the women.

 Other factors that increase the risk of getting hiccups include:

  • Conditions affecting the autonomic nervous system that also affects heartbeat, coughing, and breathing.
  • Some people develop hiccups after a doctor administers general anaesthesia or after surgical procedures involving abdominal organs

Other medical conditions including bladder irritation, pancreatitis, and hepatitis or being pregnant are also risk factors for hiccups.

There is no explanation for hiccups that last for incredibly long periods like the case of Osborne who had the conditions for 68 years. His hiccups began when a 158.8 kilogram (350 pounds) pig he was trying to weigh before slaughter fell on him. It is essential to identify the cause of hiccups helps to determine faster ways to stop them.

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