Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They are repeated and cannot be controlled. This results in an odd, sometimes uneasy gasping sensation and sound with each hiccup.
Hiccups are caused by any number of factors that irritate the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. Its main function is to help the lungs draw in air during breathing.
Phrenic Nerve and Diaphragm
Factors that may increase your chance of getting hiccups include:
- Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcohol
- Gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Stress or intense emotions
- Some medications
- Medical procedures, such as mechanical ventilation and intubation
- Certain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves, such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
Hiccups may cause:
- Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlled
- Uneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need tests if the doctor is concerned that the hiccups may be caused by a condition.
Your body fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your abdomen and chest. This can be done with:
Many treatments for hiccups involve stimulating nerves that may be involved. This can be done by:
- Eating hard to swallow items such as granulated sugar or molasses
- Sucking on ice cubes
- Gagging with purpose
- Valsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movement
- Breathing into a bag
- Gasping with purpose
Some drugs may help hiccups, including:
- Antiseizure medications
- Medications used to treat nausea
- Muscle relaxers
It is not known why some people get hiccups. There are no sure ways to prevent developing them. However, if you are prone to hiccups, you might want to avoid:
- Overfilling your stomach
- Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
- Becoming overexcited, including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center—National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 21, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2015.
What causes hiccups? Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/hiccup.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.