What causes hiccups
We have all experienced an episode of the hiccups, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself what causes hiccups to occur? Some of the theories about what causes hiccups are discussed below in addition to tips on what you can do to avoid them and how to get rid of them if you can't.
What are hiccups?
Hiccups are caused by a sudden involuntary spasm, or contraction of the dome shaped muscular partition separating the chest and the abdominal cavity. This partition, called the diaphragm, plays an important role in breathing. Normally, the diaphragm expands and deflates as it draws air into the lungs and then upon relaxation forces it out. A spasm of the diaphragm causes the abrupt inhalation of air. As it rushes through the airway towards the lungs, the opening into the glottis, or the windpipe as it's commonly referred to, closes suddenly halting the airflow. This causes the vocal chords to close quickly, producing the distinguishing hic sound we all know so well.
So why do we get hiccups?
Many factors can contribute to a case of the hiccups. Irritation to the nerves that control normal contractions of the diaphragm can occur upon the consumption of hot or spicy foods or by drinking carbonated liquids. This irritation can cause hiccups. Eating a large meal or eating too quickly can also cause hiccups by distending the stomach. The stomach is located directly under the diaphragm and it is believed by some that the hiccupping is a reflex to protect us from choking. Changing the temperature in the stomach by drinking a cold and then a hot beverage has also been known to activate the hiccups. Others aggressors include sudden excitement or stress, nervousness, heartburn, smoking, being under general anesthesia or having pneumonia. One of the biggest triggers for hiccups is alcohol. This is why intoxicated people often have the hiccups. Occasionally, a case of the hiccups can be related to a more serious underlying condition such as diabetes or kidney failure. If the hiccups last longer than twenty-four hours or if you have severe abdominal pain during an episode, consult your physician.
Although most cases of the hiccups will be brief and harmless, sometimes they can be more serious and in fact, the longest episode on record is sixty-five years. Although rare, long-term hiccups, called intractable hiccups, do occur and can last for weeks or even months. For most cases however, simple measures can be taken to encourage the episode to stop. Common cures include breath holding, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, an event that is thought to help stop hiccups. Other methods such as drinking water or holding one's tongue can also help. Both of these stimulate the vagus nerve, the nerve that runs from the brain to the stomach, which helps reduce hiccups. Breathing into a paper bag, being startled and placing sugar under your tongue are also well-known remedies.
If the above suggestions do not work and the hiccups continue, consulting your doctor is necessary. She may have some ideas about what causes hiccups in your unique situation. There are medications that can be helpful; the most commonly used drug is Chlorpromazine, better known as Thorazine. Physicians can also place a plastic or rubber suction tube through the nostril into the nose in order to stimulate the pharynx with a back and forth movement. In addition, for severe hiccup cases an operation can be done to cut or paralyze the phrenic nerve. The phrenic nerve facilitates contraction of the diaphragm and paralyzing it will end intractable hiccups.
Knowing what causes hiccups will help you prevent them and give you insight about what to do when they occur. For most, an episode of the hiccups is annoying but not serious and a drink of water and a deep breath will be enough to cure what ails you.