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Hiccups – they’re something that we’ve all had but what exactly are they, and can they be a source of concern?  We’ve done the research for you, so here’s everything that you need to know.

What are Hiccups?

Hiccups occur when the diaphragm becomes irritated, causing it to contract suddenly and involuntarily.  As the diaphragm contracts, the opening between the vocal cords snaps shut in order to check how much air is taken in and this closing is what causes the hiccupping sound.  Another thing that causes hiccups is when the nerve that extends from the neck to the chest is irritated.

What Causes Hiccups?

Hiccups can be associated with a wide range of conditions but none have been shown to cause them.  Usually, hiccups are not serious and no have apparent reason for occurring.  However, some things that may cause hiccups include:

  • eating too fast – this causes you to swallow air as well as food and this can cause hiccups
  • things that irritate the diaphragm such as eating too much (especially fatty foods), or drinking too much
  • hot or spicy foods
  • indigestion
  • fizzy drinks
  • smoking cigarettes
  • stress
  • bad odours
  • pregnancy

Getting Rid of the Hiccups

Hiccups usually go away on their own after a few minutes, however there are many ways that a person can attempt to rid themselves from a case of the hiccups.  Some common remedies include:

  • holding your breath
  • taking deep breaths
  • breathing into a paper bag
  • eating some fresh ginger
  • sucking on a lemon
  • a hot drink made with honey and lemon
  • eating a spoonful of sugar
  • drinking a glass of water slowly
  • eating ice
  • gargling
  • sitting down and leaning over the knees
  • getting a fright
  • pulling on your tongue

Many of these remedies work because carbon dioxide building up in the blood will stop the hiccups.  Drinking water or pulling on the tongue works because it stimulates the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the stomach.

When to See a Doctor

Hiccups are usually not serious and require no medical attention.  However, if the hiccups last for a long time (over three hours), occur with abdominal pain, interfere with your sleep or eating, or you start spitting up blood, you should definitely see a doctor.

In some cases, hiccups may be a sign of an underlying disease.  These hiccups usually last for days, weeks or even years.  Lung or brain disorders can affect the diaphragm and make a person prone to hiccups, and hiccups may also be a side effect of surgery or medication.  Some things that can provoke frequent or long lasting cases of the hiccups include:

  • oesophagitis
  • an overactive thyroid
  • pleurisy
  • pneumonia
  • damage to the brain that affects the area controlling the diaphragm
  • abdominal surgery
  • chest surgery
  • certain epilepsy medications
  • nicotine gum

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