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Hiccups: Treatment, symptoms, advice & help

About hiccups

‘Hiccups’ is a mild but an annoying problem, characterised by brief episode(s) of ‘sobbing sound’. This condition usually arises due to some problem in the respiratory reflex during the passage of airflow between the vocal chords, which in turn results from involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. Diaphragm is a band like muscle separating the chest from the abdomen below.

Hiccups: Incidence, age and sex

Hiccups are commonly encountered phenomena in the general population. They may occur at any age. Adults and children including infants may also be afflicted with this condition. In fact, hiccups are known to occur even in unborn babies, in utero. The incidence of hiccups is almost same in both sexes.

Signs and symptoms of hiccups: Diagnosis

The characteristic sobbing sound while breathing is typical of hiccups and is characterised by sudden onset. The episode of hiccups is generally brief and lasts for a few minutes. Such incidents are benign and harmless. However, in rare cases, it may prolong upto 48 hours, wherein they need to be clinically evaluated for any underlying pathology. Such episode of hiccups is termed as ‘persistent or intractable hiccups’. Affected individuals in such cases may experience weight loss, sleep disturbance or emotional stress.

Detailed history and thorough clinical evaluation is essential in such cases to detect any associated or underlying causes. However in most individuals, episodes of hiccups are brief and harmless and do not necessitate medical attention.

Causes and prevention of hiccups

Hiccups occur due to some sort of disturbance in the respiratory reflex. This may occur due to several reasons like eating too fast or swallowing of air. Intake of carbonated drinks or eating spicy food or emotional stress may also trigger hiccups. Excess alcohol intake has also been known to trigger hiccups in some individuals. Persistent or intractable hiccups may arise from various factors ranging from psychogenic causes to pathological causes like gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, arrhythmias, heart attack, respiratory tract infections, metabolic imbalance, and infections in the abdominal organs.

Hiccups: Complications

Hiccups per se, do not cause any complications by themselves. However, persistent and intractable hiccups may be a cause of agitation to the affected individual.

Hiccups: Treatment

This is a benign condition which in most cases, subsides on its own within a few minutes. However, simple measures like compressing the chest and diaphragm against the knees or stimulating the back of the throat with the index finger or slow sipping of ice cold water may help. Hiccups can be made to stop by increasing the carbon dioxide level which can be done by re-breathing the exhaled air or sipping a glass of water without pausing to take a breath. Persistent hiccups may need medical attention not only for symptomatic relief but also for evaluation for the underlying causes.