Everybody gets hiccups once in a while, and everyone has their own tried and tested ways of how to get rid of hiccups. From jump scares to handstands, people have found many inventive ways that they claim cure their occasional bout of hiccups, but most of us are just looking for something simple and effective we can do to suppress the involuntary jerks.
But before you attempt to treat your hiccups, you should know where they come from! “Hiccups are involuntary spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm and muscles of the rib cage which result in an immediate deep breath and sudden closing of the vocal cords causing the characteristic sound of a hiccup,” says Mark Tanchel, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey. Hiccups are believed to result from activation of a nerve pathway called a reflex arc, he adds.
Although there’s no medical cure for your random burst of hiccups, there are a few popular remedies that doctors suggest that may do the trick. Read on to learn what causes hiccups, how to get rid of them, and when your hiccups are reason enough to get checked out.
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups have been troubling people forever, says Niket Sonpal, M.D., gastroenterologist at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Essentially, when the stomach gets too full too quickly, it puts pressure on the diaphragm and that’s what leads to hiccups…the muscle between your belly and your chest contracts and it forces air and you make that ‘hic’ sound because of it.”
Fortunately, hiccups are usually short-lived and do not represent a serious problem, says Dr. Tanchel, and there are many reasons why you might be experiencing hiccups at any given time.
According to Dr. Sonpal and Dr. Tanchel, here are some of the most common reasons why your hiccups could be happening:
Eating too much
Eating too fast
Drinking carbonated beverages
Swallowing too much air when chewing gum
In accordance with the list above, Dr. Sonpal says that the “most common cause of your hiccups is acid reflux or gastric distention.” However, in rare cases, your hiccups could be cause for more concern.
Persistent hiccups lasting more than two days could result from a nervous system cause, or diseases of the chest or gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Tanchel. “Medications and other drugs, illnesses like kidney disease, and even psychological causes of extreme emotion can also result in prolonged hiccups.”
Hiccups which last more than a month are considered “intractable” and can interfere with eating and drinking, speaking and sleep, adds Dr. Tanchel. “This can cause severe emotional stress.”
Causes involving the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, are less common, explains Dr. Sonpal. “Aneurysms that may be putting pressure on certain areas of the body could also lead to hiccups in rare cases.”
How can you get rid of hiccups?
Everybody has their own way to get rid of hiccups, says Dr. Sonpal. And while there are a variety of remedies for hiccups, none have been scientifically proven, says Dr. Tanchel.
Here are some popular remedies that Dr. Sonpal and Dr. Tanchel say might do the trick:
Holding your breath (for 5-10 seconds)
Bearing down (for 5-10 seconds)
Gargling with cold water
Pulling on the tongue
Pulling the knees up to the chest for up to a minute in a seated position
Pressing firmly on closed eyeballs
Biting into a lemon
Spoonful of sugar
These maneuvers are all ways you can try to release the pressure, says Dr. Sonpal. However, he notes that these methods are only recommended for people who have hiccups for less than 48 hours.
When should you see a doctor about hiccups?
If you’ve tried all the routine things and you don’t know why you are still having hiccups, go get evaluated, says Dr. Sonpal. “Everyone gets hiccups once in a while, but if you’re getting them regularly after meals and it’s in conjunction with gastric reflux disease or lasting more than 48 hours, then you should be evaluated.”
Dr. Tanchel agrees that you should see a doctor if you have hiccups lasting more than 48 hours. “There are a variety of diagnostic tests which may be performed to try to identify an underlying cause to which treatment may be directed,” he says. “Specific prescription medications are also used to treat the hiccups themselves. Some patients have also benefited from acupuncture or hypnosis.”
Everyones a little bit different, says Dr. Sonpal, but you should pay attention to when your hiccups are happening and if they’re affecting your activities of daily living, and go from there.
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