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Hiccups doctor: What to Do and When to See a Doctor

What to Do and When to See a Doctor

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

  • Remedies and Treatments for Hiccups
  • When to See a Doctor

Hiccups are involuntary contractions (quick tightening and loosening) of your diaphragm. In your body, the diaphragm is the muscle under your lungs. It helps you breathe in and out.

When hiccup contractions occur, it can be an uncomfortable feeling. You also can produce a sound that helps give hiccups its name. That’s because your vocal cords suddenly close. This closing forces air in and makes a “hic” sound. Everyone’s hiccups sound a little different, but it’s clear whenever someone has them!

Hiccups can be caused by eating a large meal, drinking an alcoholic or carbonated beverage (like a soft drink), or excitement. They usually only last for several minutes, but in some cases, hiccups stick around for weeks or months.

If that happens, you should see your doctor. Long-lasting hiccups might be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as:

  • Nerve damage or irritation
  • Disorders of the central nervous system 
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Certain drugs 

Depending on the cause of your hiccups, you may be able to get rid of them on your own.

Most of the time, hiccups are more of a nuisance than a serious medical issue. However, they can reach a level of annoyance that you want to try anything to stop them in their tracks. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t definitive proof that many of the popular remedies actually work. Some people believe that in the time it takes to prepare for and try a remedy, the hiccups will have gone away on their own. But even if they only serve to take your mind off your case of hiccups, the following remedies might be worth a try. 

Swallow Sugar

Swallowing a spoonful of sugar may sound like just a way to help the medicine go down, but it is actually an effective treatment for hiccups. While some people suggest letting it all dissolve on your tongue, others recommend swallowing it whole.

This remedy works by stimulating your pharynx (throat) and manipulating your uvula (the flesh that hangs down in the back of your throat). Doing so helps your vocal cords relax and also causes a brief distraction for your body to focus on. However, this remedy might only work for a short while and not get rid of hiccups entirely.

Gargle with Water

Similar to swallowing sugar, this remedy works its magic by stimulating certain parts of your mouth. In particular, it provides stimulation to your oropharynx, or the back of your throat.

If you decide to give this technique a try, be sure to use ice cold water to add extra stimulation. You can also try sipping the water or sucking on ice chips. However, there is not enough research to prove the effectiveness of these methods.

Breathe into a Paper Bag 

Raising carbon dioxide pressure is proven to reduce the frequency of hiccups. This might explain why techniques that are designed to interrupt your pattern of breathing help get rid of hiccups. This can be as simple as holding your breath for a period of time.

However, if you have a paper bag handy, you might want to try breathing into it — allowing the bag to inflate and deflate with each breath. In rare cases, these techniques may cause you to hyperventilate (to breathe fast, deep, which stresses the body), which could actually make your hiccups worse.

Take Medication

If you experience long-term, or chronic, hiccups, your doctor might prescribe you a medicine called baclofen. Baclofen is an effective treatment for hiccups because it relaxes your muscles. Keeping your muscles relaxed helps calm your body and settle your diaphragm, stopping your hiccups once and for all.

Side effects of this medication include:

  • Insomnia (not being able to sleep)
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (trouble moving parts of your body)
  • Confusion 

When you stop taking baclofen, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. One such symptom is a seizure, which is a serious condition.

Other medicines for hiccups include chlorpromazine and metoclopramide. Talk to your doctor before taking any medications for hiccups.

Hiccups usually aren’t anything to worry about because most often, they go away without medical treatment. However, you should reach out to your doctor if your hiccups last more than 48 hours or begin to cause problems with eating, sleeping, or breathing.

At your appointment, your doctor might run some tests, including: 

  • Laboratory tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Endoscopic tests (tests that explore inside parts of your body)

Their goal is to help you find out why your hiccups have lasted so long and get your body back to good health as quickly as possible.

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HiccAway! UT Health San Antonio physician develops device to relieve hiccups

A neuro-intensive care physician at UT Health San Antonio has invented a science-based way to stop hiccups.

While he was working as an anesthesiologist 20 years ago, Ali Seifi, MD, FACP, FNCS, saw many surgery patients in the recovery room who developed hiccups. The annoying spasming of the diaphragm is even more of a nuisance when one has had surgery.

“I was thinking, how can I improve this?” Dr. Seifi said.

Ali Seifi, MD, FACP, FNCS

A hiccup is an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, a thin sheet of muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen and regulates breathing. The diaphragm contracts out of rhythm. This causes the vocal cords and larynx to swiftly close and the lungs to take in oxygen quickly. The body reacts with the classic hiccup sound.

Although hiccups usually are temporary, some cases may last for hours or days and could signal a medical problem. The longest case of hiccups reportedly lasted more than 60 years.

“There have been no clear medications for hiccups,” Dr. Seifi said. “The only drugs prescribed are psychiatry medications that do stop the spasms but make the patients sleepy. There also is no device to treat hiccups. A few devices were patented or proposed for provisional patents, but they never made it to the stage of being available to people.”

Dr. Seifi set out to invent a treatment.

His brainchild is shaped like a smoker’s pipe. On one end, the tube has two pinholes on opposite sides. These are covered by a valve or cap that can be adjusted for adult or child settings. This end is to be submerged into a cup of water.

The other end is a mouthpiece from which the user draws water through the pipe. The device is called HiccAway, a name conceived by medical students and residents attending rounds with Dr. Seifi.

“This is not a regular straw,” Dr. Seifi said. “To drink water through it, you need lots of effort and lots of negative pressure inside your chest. The valve causes you to forcefully suction the water from the cup, and when you do, after a few seconds the first sip of water enters the pipe and goes into your mouth.”

This does two things, Dr. Seifi said. Because of the severe negative suction, it pulls down the diaphragm, which triggers the phrenic nerve that regulates the diaphragm.

When the water enters the mouth, the brain wants to swallow it, so it closes the epiglottis, the flap in the throat that prevents food or water from entering the windpipe and lungs. “This is the time when the vagus nerve also gets activated,” Dr. Seifi said.

Stimulating the vagus nerve blocks signals to the vocal cords and eases hiccups.

“That was the idea that came to my mind,” Dr. Seifi said. “What if we, for a few seconds, forcefully triggered both nerves together?”

HiccAway does that, he said. By forceful suction, the diaphragm and phrenic nerve are activated, and at the same time, the water comes into the mouth and swallowing occurs. The vagus nerve is triggered and the hiccup goes away.

“We have tested it on a 1-year-old child. It worked,” Dr. Seifi said. “At any age that a person can drink water through a straw, it works for them.

UT Health San Antonio, on behalf of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, patented this technology and granted an exclusive worldwide license to Aim Dynamics of Longmont, Colo., to market the invention.

“Honestly I am proud that this is a scientific device, because other ‘cures’ for hiccups are like voodoo things, but this is purely science,” Dr. Seifi said.

Dr. Seifi is an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and a physician with UT Health Physicians, the clinical practice of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. He oversees the care of patients in University Hospital’s Neuro Intensive Care Unit.

Dr. Seifi received his medical degree in 1996 from Shiraz University of Medical Sciences (SUMS) in Iran. He did his first residency in anesthesiology and critical care at SUMS and his second residency in internal medicine at New Jersey’s AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. His education culminated with two years of a neuro-critical care fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

# # #

The Long School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is named for Texas philanthropists Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long. The school is the largest educator of physicians in South Texas, many of whom remain in San Antonio and the region to practice medicine. The school teaches more than 900 students and trains 800 residents each year. As a beacon of multicultural sensitivity, the school annually exceeds the national medical school average of Hispanic students enrolled. The school’s clinical practice is the largest multidisciplinary medical group in South Texas with 850 physicians in more than 100 specialties. The school has a highly productive research enterprise where world leaders in Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, aging, heart disease, kidney disease and many other fields are translating molecular discoveries into new therapies. The Long School of Medicine is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center known for prolific clinical trials and drug development programs, as well as a world-renowned center for aging and related diseases.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also referred to as UT Health San Antonio, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities and is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. With missions of teaching, research, patient care and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have graduated more than 37,000 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields, and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

Stay connected with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.


How to quickly get rid of hiccups: the doctor named 4 effective ways

  • Lifestyle

When trying to convince hiccups to switch to Fedot does not work, more effective ways to get rid of an unpleasant symptom can come to the rescue. Unless, of course, it is associated with serious health problems.

January 23, 2022

Getty Images

The word hiccup (Latin singultus) means a sigh or a sob. In fact, this is an involuntary convulsive contraction of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, during which a short breath occurs and at the same time the glottis closes, due to which the person makes a characteristic strangled sound. According to toxicologist Mikhail Kutushov, the primary cause of hiccups is a malfunction of the brain, since it is he who controls the breathing process.

The longest in the world

The Guinness Book of Records holds the world record for American Charles Osborne, who hiccupped continuously for 68 years. It is estimated that he hiccupped 715 million times. It was reported that it all started after a huge boar, which he was preparing for slaughter, collapsed on top of a man.

Read also

Sugar, honey and no fear

If hiccups bother you periodically and for a short time, there is no reason to worry – it does not warn of any pathologies. In this case, there are several ways to get rid of it faster. Mikhail Kutushov named 2 of them.

  • You can put sugar, peanut butter or honey on the root of the tongue. Sweets, being on the tongue, cause a reflex mechanism that counteracts hiccups.

  • You can lightly shake a person by wrapping your arms around him from behind under the diaphragm ( an unpaired muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities, which serves to expand the lungs – Note ed. ) and lift it sharply at the time of hiccups. In this case, the diaphragm rises and stretches, as it were, which leads to the cessation of hiccups.

  • Drink some water.

  • Hold your breath.

The effectiveness of the folk method, which many have known since childhood – “unexpected fright”, according to the doctor, has not been scientifically confirmed.

– There is a myth that if a person is very frightened, the hiccups that begin abruptly can also abruptly disappear. There is no scientific justification for this, as, however, there are no refutations, – says the toxicologist.

There are other medicines that can help you get rid of hiccups, but they should only be prescribed by a doctor.

Read also

From hernia to cancer

According to Mikhail Kutushov, prolonged or frequent hiccups can “haunt” a person with the following health problems:

  • Diseases of the esophagus, including cancer;

  • Gastrointestinal hernia;

  • Stomach cancer;

  • Pancreatic cancer;

  • Brain injury.

Previously, therapist Rachel Ward called prolonged and severe hiccups – one of the possible signs of a stroke . According to him, this happens when a blood clot affects the blood supply to the back of the brain stem.

Also reported in BMJ Case Reports is a case of a 35-year-old patient who suffered from hiccups for 5 days. In addition to her, he had a feeling of nausea and numbness in his hands. MRI results showed that prolonged hiccups were associated with a rare and often benign brain tumor, hemangioblastoma. According to the attending physician, the brainstem tumor pressed on the nerve endings in the cervical spine.

Last summer, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, 66, was hospitalized after suffering from hiccups that lasted 10 days. The media wrote that the head of state could not even speak because of her. Doctors suspected he had bowel obstruction and heart problems . As Tatyana Novikova, Associate Professor of the Department of Hospital Therapy and Cardiology of the North-Western State Medical University named after N.N. Mechnikov, theoretically, hiccups can be a sign of a heart attack, but this is not a classic symptom. In this case, in addition to it, other symptoms should appear that indicate heart problems.

Text author: Anastasia Romanova

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