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How stuff works: Hiccups

“Hic-!” It looks like someone is really missing you. Well, maybe not. We’ve all gone through fits of these funny noises that seem to come out of nowhere, leaving to some uncomfortable experiences.

Hiccups can be really annoying after a certain period of time. Have you ever wondered how it all happens? Where does it come from? What does it do to your body?

What are Hiccups?

Hiccups are bursts of forced intakes of breaths caused by muscle spasms in your chest and throat. The part to blame is your diaphragm. This is a dome- shaped muscle at the bottom of your chest, where all hiccups start from.

What happens when you hiccup?


Here is how the diaphragm works. When you inhale, it pulls down to help pull air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and air flows out of the lungs back out through the nose and mouth. But sometimes the diaphragm becomes irritated. When this happens, it pulls down in a jerky manner, which makes you suck air into your throat sud- denly. When the air rushing in hits your voice box, your vocal cords close suddenly and you’re left with a big hiccup.

Why is this happening?

What have you done to deserve these bouts of hics and ups?

  • Hot food has irritated the phrenic nerve near the esoph- agus.
  • When there is gas in the stomach, which presses against the diaphragm.
  • Too much food is eaten.
  • Food is eaten too rapidly.
  • Fizzy drinks are consumed.
  • Some people get hiccups after eating spicy foods.
  • After eating dry breads.
  • Many people anecdotally re- port hiccups after consuming alcoholic beverages.
  • There is a sudden change in temperature
  • Psychological reactions, in- cluding grief, excitement, anxiety, stress, hysterical be- havior, or shock– sometimes hiccups will occur because of a disturbance to the nerve pathways from the brain to the muscles involved

Please make it STOP!

­You’ve gone past the “post hic- cup weary smile phase” and just entered the “if I hiccup again I’m going to stab my di- aphragm with a hot iron” stage. There are several remedies to getting rid of hiccups but not all of them are guaranteed to work. The ones that actually work do so by helping you get control of your breathing. It works on the principle of the interrupting your breathing pattern.

Here are a few remedies that can help:


  • Sip ice-cold water slowly
  • Hold your breath for a short time, breath out, then do it again three or four times – do this every 20 minutes
    Hiccups-0045
  • Get someone to scare you- Sometimes hiccups will occur because of a disturbance to the nerve pathways from the brain to the muscles involved. A sudden shock can sometime abolish the attacks.
  • While you swallow, place gentle pressure on your nose
  • Place gentle pressure on your
  • diaphragm
  • Gargle with very cold water
  • Bite on a lemon
  • Take some granulated sugar and let it melt in your mouth before swallowing
    Hiccups-0027
  • Have a tiny bit of vinegar
  • (enough to taste)
  • Breathe into a paper bag (you should never cover your head with the bag)- increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs, relaxing the diaphragm and halting the spasms.
    Hiccups-0019
  • Sit down and hug your knees as close to your chest as you can for short periods
  • Lean forward so that you gen- tly compress your chest.
  • Drink from the far side of the glass – stand up, bend over and put your mouth on the opposite side of the glass. As you bend, tilt the glass away from you and drink
    Hiccups-0033
  • Sip very cold water slowly
  • Drink a glass of warm water very slowly, all the way down 
without breathing
  • Burping – some people find 
that if they consume a fizzy drink and burp, their hiccups go away. However, some doc- tors warn that sodas may trig- ger hiccups.
  • Waiting – in the vast majority of cases, hiccups go away on their own. Some say that by simply waiting and not worry- ing about them, the problem is likely to resolve more quickly
  • Pull your tongue – hold the end of your tongue with your fingers and tug. This stimu- lates the vagus nerve and eas- es diaphragm spasms, which may sometimes stop hiccups (this often does not work)

“Hiccups are bursts of forced intakes of breaths caused by muscle spasms in your chest and throat”

It just won’t stop! 


Hiccups usually go away after a short period of time. However, 
here are cases where prolonged bouts of hiccups have been experienced for hours, days, months and even years.

Hiccups that last less than 48 hours do not usually need any medical attention, because they resolve on their own. If your hiccups persist for longer, you should check with your doctor. Women and men tend to get hiccups equally as often, but hiccups that last more than 48 hours are more common in men. Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are called persistent hic- cups, those that last longer than a month are called intractable hiccups. The causes of persistent and intractable hiccups can be:

  • Central nervous system prob- lems, such as cancer, infec- tions, stroke, or injury.
  • Problems with the chemical processes that take place in the body (metabolic prob- lems), such as decreased kidney function or hyper- ventilation.
  • Irritation of the nerves in the head, neck, and chest (vagus or phrenic nerve).
  • Anesthesia or surgery.
• Mental health problems.

Hiccups that last less than 48 hours do not usually need any medical attention, because they resolve on their own.

Medical Term: SDF (synchro- nous diaphragmatic flutter) or singultus

FUN FACTS

Hiccups for life: The world record for the longest period of hiccups stands at 68 years, with a guy called Charles Osbourne from the USA, who hiccupped continuously from 1922 to 1990. While Osborne was preparing
to slaughter a 300-pound hog
in 1922, the animal collapsed ontopofhim-andsobeganhis decades of non-stop hiccup- ping. He had one “hic” every ten seconds for the next 68 years. Osborne underwent several operations to cure his hiccups
- all of them failed. He died on May 1st 1991 from complica- tions from ulcers. His hiccups had stopped one year earlier
in 1990.

Born with it: For many of us, hiccups begin in the womb. The recapitulation theory propos- es that fetuses use hiccups in respiration ¬before their ¬lungs are fully developed. This may help explain why premature infants spend up to 2.5 percent of their time hiccuping — more than full-term babies

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