News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation |

News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation


In these challenging times, sometimes a little levity can be good for the soul so please indulge a topic people don’t often think much about in terms of their health – hiccups.

We all get hiccups, but most of us don’t pay much attention to them. Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays a significant role in how you breathe.

So how do hiccups work? Each contraction is followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords producing the “hic” sound. The first known use of the word hiccup was in the 1570s. The scientific name, singultus, comes from a Latin word meaning “to catch one’s breath while sobbing.” While a normal episode only lasts a few minutes, a man named Charles Osborne had the longest recorded hiccup streak of 68 years from 1922 to 1960 until he was 96 years old. They stopped one year before he died and no one has ever determined why.

Hiccups are generally annoying, but not likely to compromise your health. Chronic hiccups may be an indicator of other health conditions. Chronic hiccups are associated with brain tumors, strokes, pneumonia and pleurisy, as well as other disorders. Chronic hiccups are persistent for over a month, but can last for years. Your physician may have some options such as treating them with a nerve blockade, medications or in rare situations, surgery.

There are a number of things that can trigger hiccups. These include drinking carbonated beverages, drinking too much alcohol, overeating, emotional stress, sudden temperature changes, and swallowing air when sucking on candy or chewing gum.

Long-term or chronic hiccups can result in nerve damage or irritation of the vagus nerves (responsible for organ function) or phrenic nerve (runs from the spinal cord to the diaphragm). A tumor, cyst or goiter in the neck, gastroesophageal reflux, a sore throat or laryngitis are things that can cause irritation. If there is a tumor or infection in the central nervous system or damage due to a trauma, it can disrupt your body’s normal control of the hiccup reflex.

Some scientists hypothesize that hiccups are a trait left over from our evolutionary past and that the muscles that cause hiccups were originally intended for gills. Humans are not the only ones that hiccup. Surprisingly, most mammals do too. In addition, ultrasounds have found that fetuses can hiccup. In fact, there is some speculation that hiccups are a way of preparing the fetus for breathing once it is born by exercising the muscles.

There are many versions of home remedies including holding your breath, breathing into a paper bag, sucking on a lemon, eating sugar, and drinking water from the opposite side of the glass. Things that disrupt breathing often take care of the problem.

Even after centuries, hiccupping is still a mystery that no one has quite been able to solve. They may be super annoying, but the good news for most, they are short-lived.

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