Dr AvinashTank, is a super-specialist (MCh) Laparoscopic Gastro-intestinal Surgeon,

Hiccup- Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Hiccup- Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
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Summary: 30 Sec Read

Introduction: Hiccups, medically termed synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), are involuntary diaphragm contractions followed by vocal cord closure, causing the distinctive “hic” sound. They are usually harmless but can become chronic or indicate underlying health issues.

Causes of Hiccups:

  • Overeating or eating quickly.
  • Swallowing air.
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Sudden temperature changes.
  • Emotional factors.
  • Alcohol or excessive smoking.
  • Certain medications.

Risk Factors:

  • More common in men.
  • Common in infants, decreasing with age.
  • Nervous system disorders.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions.
  • Recent surgeries.


  • “Hic” sound due to diaphragm contraction.
  • Mild discomfort or pressure.
  • Interruption of normal breathing.
  • Social discomfort in the case of frequent or loud hiccups.


  • Dehydration.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion.

Diagnosis: Diagnostic tests may be performed if hiccups persist for over 48 hours or have associated symptoms:

  • X-ray.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI brain.

Treatment: Most hiccups resolve on their own. Medications are considered when home remedies fail or in cases of chronic hiccups. Medications can include:

  • Chlorpromazine.
  • Metoclopramide.
  • Baclofen.
  • Gabapentin.
  • Baclofen/Gabapentin combination.
  • Haloperidol.


  • Avoid overeating and eating rapidly.
  • Limit carbonated drinks.
  • Manage stress.
  • Reduce alcohol and smoking.

Home Care Remedies:

  • Hold your breath.
  • Sip water slowly.
  • Consume a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Breathe into a paper bag (briefly and cautiously).
  • Apply gentle pressure to the diaphragm.
  • Gargle with cold water.
  • Distract yourself.
  • Drink from the opposite side of the glass.
  • Use a cold or warm compress.


We’ve all experienced it at some point – that sudden involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, followed by an abrupt closure of the vocal cords, producing a characteristic “hic” sound. Hiccups, medically known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF) or singultus, are a common and usually harmless phenomenon that occurs when an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm happens, causing a temporary disruption in our normal breathing pattern.

While most hiccups are short-lived and subside on their own, there are instances when they can become chronic or signal an underlying health condition. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various aspects of hiccups, including their causes, risk factors, symptoms, complications of untreated hiccups, diagnosis methods, available treatments, prevention tips, and home care remedies. Let’s explore this peculiar phenomenon in detail.


Hiccups, though often considered harmless and amusing, can become an annoyance when they persist or recur frequently. In normal cases, hiccups can last for a few minutes to a few hours, but prolonged or chronic hiccups may necessitate medical attention. Before we delve into the causes and risk factors, let’s understand the physiology of hiccups.

The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle located beneath the lungs, plays a crucial role in the breathing process. During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward, allowing the lungs to expand and fill with air. Conversely, during exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward, pushing air out of the lungs. Hiccups occur when the diaphragm contracts involuntarily, and the glottis, the part of the larynx containing the vocal cords, shuts quickly, resulting in the classic “hic” sound.

Causes of Hiccups

Hiccups can be triggered by various factors, ranging from benign to more severe. Some common causes include:

  1. Overeating or Eating Too Quickly: Consuming large meals or eating rapidly can distend the stomach and irritate the diaphragm, leading to hiccups.
  2. Swallowing Air: Ingesting air while eating or drinking can create excess gas in the stomach, causing hiccups.
  3. Carbonated Drinks: The carbon dioxide in fizzy beverages can also trigger hiccups by creating gas bubbles in the stomach.
  4. Sudden Temperature Changes: Drastic changes in temperature, such as drinking a hot beverage followed by a cold one, can stimulate the vagus nerve and lead to hiccups.
  5. Emotional Factors: Stress, excitement, or anxiety can stimulate the vagus nerve, leading to hiccups.
  6. Alcohol or Excessive Smoking: Consuming alcohol or smoking excessively can irritate the diaphragm and contribute to hiccups.
  7. Certain Medications: Some medications, especially those that impact the central nervous system, may induce hiccups as a side effect.

Risk Factors for Hiccups

While hiccups can affect anyone, certain individuals may be more prone to experiencing frequent or chronic hiccups due to the following risk factors:

  1. Men: Hiccups seem to occur more frequently in men than in women.
  2. Infants and Children: Hiccups are quite common in newborns and babies but tend to decrease as they grow older.
  3. Nervous System Disorders: People with nervous system disorders or damage to the brainstem may be more susceptible to hiccups.
  4. Gastrointestinal Conditions: Individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, or other digestive disorders may experience hiccups more often.
  5. Recent Surgeries: Surgical procedures that affect the stomach or esophagus can increase the likelihood of hiccups.

Symptoms of Hiccups

Hiccups themselves are the primary symptom, characterized by the “hic” sound resulting from the sudden diaphragm contraction and glottis closure. Apart from this distinctive sound, some individuals may experience accompanying symptoms, such as:

  1. Mild Discomfort: Some people may feel a slight discomfort or pressure in the chest or abdomen during hiccups.
  2. Interrupted Breathing: In severe cases, hiccups can temporarily disrupt normal breathing patterns.
  3. Embarrassment: Frequent or loud hiccups may lead to embarrassment or social discomfort.

While hiccups are usually self-limiting and resolve on their own, persistent or chronic hiccups may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention.

Complications of Untreated Hiccups

In most cases, hiccups are harmless and resolve spontaneously, but prolonged or chronic hiccups can lead to potential complications:

  1. Dehydration: Chronic hiccups can lead to reduced fluid intake, potentially resulting in dehydration.
  2. Sleep Disturbance: Frequent hiccups during sleep can disrupt restful sleep, leading to fatigue and other related issues.
  3. Weight Loss and Malnutrition: Prolonged hiccups can decrease appetite and lead to unintentional weight loss or malnutrition.
  4. Fatigue and Exhaustion: Chronic hiccups can be physically and emotionally draining, leading to exhaustion and reduced quality of life.

Diagnosis of Hiccups

In most cases, hiccups do not require extensive diagnostic procedures. However, if hiccups persist for more than 48 hours or are associated with other concerning symptoms, healthcare providers may perform diagnostic tests to rule out any underlying conditions. Some common diagnostic methods include:

  1. X-ray: An X-ray of the chest or abdomen can help identify any abnormalities that might be contributing to the hiccups.
  2. CT Scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan provides detailed images of the internal organs, aiding in identifying potential causes.
  3. MRI Brain: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain can be performed to rule out any neurological issues.

Treatment of Hiccups

In most cases, hiccups resolve on their own without requiring medical intervention. Medications for hiccups are typically reserved for cases where home care remedies and lifestyle modifications have not provided relief, or when hiccups are persistent and causing significant discomfort.
It’s important to note that there is no specific medication designed solely to treat hiccups, and the choice of medication will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the hiccups.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medications for hiccups. Below are some common medications that may be prescribed to address hiccups:

  1. Chlorpromazine: Chlorpromazine is an antipsychotic medication that is sometimes used off-label to treat hiccups. It works by affecting the central nervous system and can help suppress the hiccup reflex. However, it should be used cautiously and under the supervision of a healthcare provider due to potential side effects associated with antipsychotic medications.
  2. Metoclopramide: Metoclopramide is a medication commonly used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, such as acid reflux and nausea. It can also help reduce hiccups by affecting the digestive system and the nerves that control it. Like any medication, metoclopramide can have side effects and should only be taken as prescribed by a healthcare professional.
  3. Baclofen: Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that can sometimes be used to alleviate hiccups caused by muscle spasms. It works by acting on the nervous system to reduce muscle contractions. However, it is essential to follow the prescribed dosage and consult a doctor before taking baclofen.
  4. Gabapentin: Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication used primarily to treat seizures and neuropathic pain. In some cases, it may be prescribed to control chronic hiccups, especially if they are associated with nerve-related issues. As with any medication, it’s crucial to take gabapentin under medical supervision.
  5. Baclofen/Gabapentin Combination: In certain cases of persistent hiccups, a combination of baclofen and gabapentin may be prescribed to address both muscle-related and nerve-related factors contributing to hiccups.
  6. Haloperidol: Haloperidol is another antipsychotic medication that may be used off-label to treat hiccups when other methods have failed. Like other antipsychotic medications, it should be used with caution due to potential side effects.

It’s important to reiterate that medications for hiccups should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. They are typically prescribed for chronic, severe, or persistent hiccups when the underlying cause requires medical intervention. In many cases, hiccups resolve on their own or with simple home care remedies, and medical treatment may not be necessary.

Additionally, the choice of medication and dosage will depend on the individual’s medical history, current health status, and any other medications they may be taking. As with any treatment, potential benefits should be weighed against potential risks and side effects, and open communication with a healthcare provider is vital to ensure safe and effective treatment for hiccups.

Prevention of Hiccups

While it’s not always possible to prevent hiccups entirely, some lifestyle modifications and preventive measures may help reduce their frequency:

  1. Eating Habits: Avoid overeating and try to consume meals at a slower pace.
  2. Limit Carbonated Drinks: Reduce the intake of carbonated beverages, as they can contribute to hiccups.
  3. Manage Stress: Practicing relaxation techniques or mindfulness can help manage stress-related hiccups.
  4. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: Reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking can prevent hiccups triggered by these factors.

Home Care Remedies for Hiccups

If you’re experiencing hiccups and they’re not severe or prolonged, there are several home care remedies that may help:

  1. Hold Your Breath: One of the most common and simple remedies for hiccups is to hold your breath. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you comfortably can. This helps regulate the diaphragm and interrupts the hiccup reflex. Exhale slowly and repeat as needed until the hiccups subside.
  2. Drink Water Slowly: Sipping a glass of water slowly can help relax the diaphragm and potentially stop hiccups. The act of swallowing may override the hiccup reflex, leading to relief. Avoid gulping the water quickly, as this can sometimes exacerbate the hiccups.
  3. Swallow a Teaspoon of Sugar: Another popular home remedy for hiccups involves consuming a teaspoon of granulated sugar. The graininess of the sugar may stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps stop the hiccup reflex. Take the sugar slowly, allowing it to dissolve in your mouth before swallowing.
  4. Breathe into a Paper Bag: Breathing into a paper bag may help increase the carbon dioxide levels in your blood, which can alleviate hiccups. However, this technique should be used cautiously and briefly to avoid the risk of hyperventilation.
  5. Apply Gentle Pressure: Applying gentle pressure to the diaphragm area might help relax the muscle and halt the hiccup reflex. You can try leaning forward slightly and pressing your palms against your upper abdomen for a few moments.
  6. Gargle with Cold Water: Gargling with cold water can stimulate the vagus nerve and potentially interrupt hiccups. Take a small sip of cold water, tilt your head back, and gargle for a few seconds before spitting it out.
  7. Distract Yourself: Focusing on something else can sometimes shift your attention away from the hiccups, allowing them to subside naturally. Engage in an activity that requires concentration, such as counting backward or solving a puzzle.
  8. Drink from the Opposite Side of the Glass: This curious method involves bending forward and drinking from the opposite side of the glass. It can create a slight challenge for the muscles involved in drinking and might help stop hiccups.
  9. Use Cold or Warm Compress: Placing a cold or warm compress on your neck or chest might have a relaxing effect on the diaphragm and help relieve hiccups.

Remember to consult a healthcare professional for persistent or severe hiccups, as they might indicate underlying health issues.

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