What causes the hiccups?

Hic!... Hic!... Hic! Hiccups can be really annoying or funny (depending on your age). But what causes them and how can you get rid of them?

Hiccups are caused by an uncontrollable contraction of your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is the muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest. The contraction causes your vocal cords to close briefly, resulting in the hiccup sound – hic!

Image: 123RF

It’s impossible to predict when you’ll get the hiccups or how long they’ll last. The good news is hiccups usually only last a few minutes and then they disappear… only to come back a few seconds later. But then after a few false alarms, they usually disappear for good. There have been some cases where the hiccups have lasted for months, even years, but this is very rare.

So what causes your diaphragm to contract in the first place? Sometimes it can be irritated by things such as:

  • eating spicy food
  • eating too quickly
  • eating too much
  • drinking alcohol or carbonated drinks
  • bloated stomach
  • feeling nervous/excited
  • sudden temperature change.

The million dollar question is how do you get rid of the hiccups? There are a lot of suggestions out there – some may work, some may not. But by the time you’ve tried a few different ways to get rid of them, they’ve usually disappeared. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

  • tip upside down
  • sip a glass of cold water
  • hold your breath
  • breathe out slowly making an "sssss" sound
  • bite on a lemon
  • get someone to scare you
  • gargle with water
  • pull on your tongue
  • hug your knees
  • breathe in and out of a paper bag (never use a plastic bag as you could suffocate).

If your hiccups continue for more than 48 hours or are interfering with eating, sleeping or breathing, please see a health professional. It could be a sign of a more serious problem.