Q & A Library
Got the Hiccups?
What causes hiccups? Is there a dependable, quick way to get rid of them?
Answer (Published 2/27/2006)
Hiccups are abrupt contractions in the diaphragm, followed by a sudden closure of the glottis (the opening between the vocal cords), which temporarily stop the inflow of air. Hiccups can be set off by stress, excitement, stomach irritation, toxins, temperature changes, barbiturates, and a variety of other triggers. If you eat too fast, you may swallow air along with your food – this can bring on hiccups. Drinking too much alcohol can also trigger hiccups.
Usually, hiccups go away within minutes, but they can go on – and on and on. The longest case on record was suffered by an Iowa pig farmer named Charles Osborne, who reportedly started hiccupping in 1922 when attempting to weigh a hog before slaughtering it. He continued hiccupping, first at the rate of 40 times a minute and then at the rate of 20 times a minute, until February 1990. He died the following year. Having suffered a 20-hour bout of hiccups in association with viral gastro-enteritis, I cannot imagine how Charles Osborne made it through all those years. It was one of the worst periods of my life.
For ordinary hiccups you can try any of the popular home remedies. Here are a few worth considering:
If your hiccups go on for more than three hours or interfere with your sleep, see your doctor who may prescribe medication to put an end to them. In very severe cases, surgery to disable the phrenic nerve that controls the diaphragm may be recommended. Fortunately, such cases are extremely rare.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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