Hiccups (also spelled hiccough) are sudden, involuntary contractions (spasms) of the diaphragm muscle. When the muscle spasms, the vocal cords snap shut, producing the hiccup sound.
Hiccups are often rhythmic. They are usually just a temporary minor annoyance, but prolonged hiccups may signal a major medical problem. The longest recorded hiccup attack is six decades!
Women and men tend to get hiccups equally as often, but hiccups that last more than 48 hours are more common in men. Hiccups can even occur in a fetus while still in utero.
The medical term for hiccups is singultus, which comes from the Latin word for “gasp” or “sob.”
What causes hiccups?
Most of the time, there is no obvious cause for hiccups. However, there are some common known causes of hiccups.
Some causes of hiccups include:
- Eating too quickly and swallowing air along with foods.
- Eating too much (fatty or spicy foods, in particular) or drinking too much (carbonated beverages or alcohol) can distend the stomach and irritate the diaphragm, which can cause hiccups.
- Any disease or disorder that irritates the nerves that control the diaphragm (such as liver disease (such as liver disease, pneumonia, or other lung disorders).
- Abdominal surgery can also irritate the nerves that control the diaphragm, causing hiccups.
- Strokes or brain tumors involving the brain stem, and some chronic medical disorders (such as renal failure) have also been reported to cause hiccups.
Noxious fumes can also trigger hiccups.
- Sudden changes in temperature
- Fear or excitement