Read below about hiccups, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your hiccups from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Hiccups Symptoms

Hiccups, also called hiccoughs or singultus, can appear out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. These short, barking little coughs can be rather embarrassing and are often used in comedy suggesting drunkenness, even though they often occur without touching alcohol.

Hiccups are a spasm of the diaphragm, the large muscle that allows you to breathe and separates the chest from the abdomen. They may seem to serve no purpose in adults; however, hiccups may be part of a reflex that allows newborns to drink milk and breathe at the same time (older children and adults cannot do this). The "hiccup reflex" may allow air to be expelled from the stomach while the baby is nursing, thus preventing pain from swallowed air and allowing babies to consume more milk. In adults, they're usually just annoying.

Characteristics:

  • Hiccups are a brief and involuntary spasm of your diaphragm [1].
  • The time between individual hiccups is usually constant – that is, there's a regular rhythm with a certain number of seconds between each one.
  • The "hic" sound happens because the spasms also cause your vocal cords to close suddenly with each spasm.
  • There may be some pain or discomfort with each spasm, especially if the hiccups have gone on for an hour or more.

Duration:

  • Hiccups usually last minutes but can last a few hours.
  • In unusual cases, they may persist for a few days.
  • Rarely, hiccups may go on for months. The condition is then called intractable, persistent, or chronic hiccups [2].

Who is most often affected by hiccups?

  • Hiccups are very common in children, especially infants.
  • Otherwise, men seem to be affected more often than women, though hiccups can happen to anyone.

Are hiccups serious?

  • Hiccups may be a little embarrassing but are rarely serious. Nearly everyone has a bout of hiccups from time to time.
  • If hiccups happen frequently and there are other troubling or unusual symptoms, you should see a medical provider.
  • A case of intractable hiccups – which means they never stop – may sound funny, but it's actually no joke. Severe, persistent hiccups are not only annoying, but may have a serious cause, which needs to be discovered. A medical provider can help you find the cause and will recommend treatment.

Hiccups Causes Overview

Many conditions can have hiccups as a symptom. almost all of them are things that can cause irritation of the nerves of the diaphragm, but sometimes hiccups are due to the nerves to the diaphragm or the brain's hiccup center being irritated [3].

Respiratory system causes:

  • Infection in the chest that irritates the diaphragm.
  • Tumors in the chest that irritate the diaphragm.
  • A hiatal hernia, which is a separation in the muscles of the diaphragm.
  • Severe or lengthy coughing.

Involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system causes:

  • Disorders of the nerves innervating the diaphragm (the phrenic nerve).
  • Disorders in the brain's centers dealing with the diaphragm.

Digestive system causes:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly.
  • Swallowing air, especially when chewing gum or eating hard candy.
  • A tumor in the abdomen can irritate the diaphragm.
  • Heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
  • Talking while eating.
  • Spicy foods.
  • Carbonated drinks.

Other causes:

  • Severe emotional stress.
  • Going suddenly from warm air to very cold air.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Surgery, especially of the abdominal organs.
  • Medications.
  • Alcohol use and abuse

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Hiccups

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced hiccups. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acute Episode of Hiccups

    An episode of hiccups is caused by involuntary contraction of the diaphragm with rapid closure of the airway by the epiglottis. An acute episode (lasting less than 48 hours) is very common, and most often tied to rapid eating, holding breath, or alcohol consumption.

    Almost all cases of hiccups resolve themselves within a few minutes or hours.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hiccups
    Symptoms that always occur with acute episode of hiccups:
    hiccups
    Urgency:
    Wait and watch
  2. 2.Barrett's Esophagus

    Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus changes. These changes occur after longstanding gastro-esophageal reflux. Symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux can be regurgitation, heartburn. Barretts esophagus is associated with a risk of developing malignant esophageal disease.

    This is likely a lifelong condition for which surveillance is necessary.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, regurgitation, heartburn, sore throat, dry cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Hiccups Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having hiccups.

    Hiccups Quiz
  3. 3.Persistent Hiccups

    Hiccups are caused by the involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, with rapid closure of the airway, by the epiglottis. Hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours are called Persistent Hiccups.

    Hiccups usually resolve on their own within a matter of minutes, but in extremely rare cases, they can last for years.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hiccups
    Symptoms that always occur with persistent hiccups:
    hiccups
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Intractable Hiccups

    A bout of hiccups involves involuntary contraction of the diaphragm and rapid closure of the airway by the epiglottis. Hiccups lasting longer than one month are called "intractable" and may be connected to a broad range of different underlying conditions.

    The timeline for stopping your intractable hiccups depends on the underlying cause. In rare cases, people have had intractable hiccups for years.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hiccups
    Symptoms that always occur with intractable hiccups:
    hiccups
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Achalasia

    Achalasia is a disorder of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. This condition affects the ability of the esophagus to move food into the stomach.

    Relief after surgery in 80-85% of people

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain below the ribs, regurgitation, unintentional weight loss, heartburn, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Hiccups Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You have hiccups which have been going on for days or weeks.
  • You also have symptoms of other serious illness such as chest pain, shortness of breath, uncontrolled vomiting or trouble swallowing.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Hiccups that are persistent, but not accompanied by other symptoms [4]. A medical provider can sometimes prescribe medication or other treatment to help stop them.
  • Some patients have found acupuncture to be helpful for many conditions, including persistent hiccups.
  • As with smoking, hypnosis can help some cases of hiccups as well.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Small sips of ice-cold water.
  • Holding your breath for as long as you can.
  • Breathing into a paper bag.
  • Swallowing a teaspoon of sugar.

FAQs About Hiccups

Here are some frequently asked questions about hiccups.

What causes hiccups?

Hiccups (singultus) are caused by involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, which causes outflow of air then closure of the vocal cords, resulting in the "hic" sound as air rushes against them. Hiccups can be caused by any number of medical conditions or nothing at all. The exact neurological mechanism of a hiccup is unknown. The mechanism usually involves contraction of one side of the diaphragm. They can occur when some sort of stimulus (e.g. food, gas, stomach overdistention following eating, or a sudden surprise) activates nerves connected to the diaphragm. Hiccups maybe associated with infection or irritation of the nerves in the diaphragm or neck.

How to get rid of hiccups?

Common methods to try to control hiccups are holding one's breath, covering one's nose and mouth and bearing down (as if when having a bowel movement), drinking cold water, pressing on the eyeballs, and certain physical maneuvers such as pulling the knees forward or leaning forward to compress the chest. Other commonly tried remedies include getting frightened or drinking a carbonated beverage.

Why do newborns get hiccups?

Overfeeding is a common reason that newborns get hiccups. Specifically, distending the stomach too quickly can lead to hiccups. Additionally, any possible causes of hiccups in adults (e.g. fear, increased bowel gas, or swallowed air while eating) can trigger hiccups in babies. As for ways to stop hiccups, burping the baby may be effective for controlling hiccups caused by gas. Giving the baby a pacifier or cold water may help.

Are prolonged hiccups a sign of something more serious?

Persistent (>48 hours) and intractable (>1 month) hiccups (singultus) can be a sign of something more concerning than simple physiological hiccups [5]. If you have experienced any of these prolonged states of hiccups, consider visiting a medical professional for evaluation.

When should you contact a doctor for hiccups?

If your hiccups have lasted longer than 48 hours without stopping, you should schedule an appointment with your physician. This can be a sign of something more serious. However, you should keep in mind that the majority of cases of prolonged hiccups do not yield a diagnosis. If possible, it can be helpful to have someone monitor whether your hiccups are occurring during sleep. Hiccups during sleep can be a sign of an underlying cause that is worth getting evaluated by a doctor.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hiccups

  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.Have you or do you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our hiccups symptom checker to find out more.

Hiccups Quiz

Hiccups Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced hiccups have also experienced:

    • 6% Increased Burping
    • 5% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 5% Regurgitation
  • People who have experienced hiccups were most often matched with:

    • 57% Barrett's Esophagus
    • 42% Persistent Hiccups
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Hiccups. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 23, 2015. MedlinePlus Link.
  2. Chronic Hiccups. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. GARD Link.
  3. Hiccups, Chronic. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Published 2005. NORD Link.
  4. Woelk CJ. Managing Hiccups. Canadian Family Physician. 2011;57(6):672-675. NCBI Link.
  5. Chang FY, Lu CL. Hiccup: Mystery, Nature and Treatment. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2012;18(2):123-130. NCBI Link.