What Causes Hiccups? Risks And Complications

By:    Published: December 14, 2011

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Just about everyone has had at least one bout of the hiccups in their lifetime, usually more. But they come on so suddenly and seemingly out of the blue that many people are unsure of what causes them in the first place. Hiccups can actually result from quite a few different things, but the physical experience is typically the same across the board. In reality, the most important thing to pay attention to with hiccups is how long they actually last. Learn more about hiccups and where they come from in this article.

Defining Hiccups

Hiccups often feel like a short, uncontrollable release of air. This feeling is actually caused by an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, which is a muscle in your abdomen that separates this part of the body from the chest. The diaphragm is important in the breathing process, so it’s no surprise that sudden contractions could result in the feeling of a release of air. Every time the contraction occurs, your vocal cords are temporarily closed off immediately afterwards. It’s this part of the hiccup process that results in the audible part of a hiccup.

Hiccups can vary from person to person. Some people may barely feel hiccups, while others feel a strong contraction in the diaphragm followed by a loud hiccup sound. For most people, hiccups only last a few minutes. In rare cases, however, they can last for days, weeks or even months. This can often lead to problems with getting enough sleep and poor eating habits. Individuals who have hiccups for more than 48 hours should seek medical attention in case an underlying health condition is causing the hiccups to persist.

Risk Factors

Although they seem to be random when they strike, hiccups are actually associated with quite a few risk factors, including:

  • Age: Hiccups are quite common in newborns and infants. Individuals falling in this age range are more likely to get hiccups that those who are older.
  • Sex: According to MayoClinic.com, men are more likely to get long-term hiccups than women are.
  • Surgery: People who are having surgery in the abdominal area or who are undergoing general anesthesia for a surgical procedure often develop hiccups after the surgery is complete.
  • Mental health: People who are prone to stress, anxiety or excessive or sudden excitement are also prone to hiccups. In these cases, the hiccups may turn out to be either long- or short-term.

Key Causes

Almost all cases of hiccups are caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Overeating: Hiccups can occur if you are eating too quickly or too much.
  • Spicy foods: Eating hot, spicy foods or liquids can sometimes lead to hiccups.
  • Carbonated drinks: Sodas and other carbonated drinks are often linked to the development of hiccups, especially when they are consumed quickly.
  • Alcohol: When people become intoxicated, they are more likely to develop hiccups.
  • Excitement or stress: Hiccups may be an involuntary reaction to becoming suddenly excited or emotionally distressed.
  • Temperature: Hiccups sometimes occur when the temperature rises or falls rapidly.

Complications

Hiccups caused by the above factors usually go away within minutes. However, those that persist for more than 48 hours are often caused by more serious underlying conditions, such as:

  • Nerve damage: This is the most common cause of hiccups that persist for many days, weeks or even months. When nerves connected to the diaphragm muscle are damaged or irritated, it can trigger hiccups that do not go away. This could result from something as simple as a hair touching the eardrum to a sore throat to a tumor in your neck. Each of these situations could potentially affect the nerves associated with the diaphragm.
  • Nervous system problems: Hiccups may also result from disorders in the central nervous system. Damage in this area of the body can sometimes affect your body’s ability to control your hiccup reflex, causing the hiccups to persist for a long time. Several conditions can lead to this type of damage to the central nervous system, including traumatic brain injuries, strokes, encephalitis, meningitis, multiple sclerosis or tumors.
  • Metabolic disorders: If you have a health condition affecting your metabolism, long-term hiccups may result. Examples of these types of disorders are kidney failure, alcoholism, diabetes or an electrolyte imbalance.
  • Drugs: Taking certain types of medications can affect your body’s ability to control hiccups. Examples of these types of drugs are steroids, tranquilizers and barbiturates.

There are several home remedies that are suggested for hiccups, such as breathing into a bag or holding your breath. However, short-term hiccups are rarely a problem for your health. The important thing to remember is to see a doctor if your symptoms persist for two days or more.

Sources:

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