Hiccups – causes and treatment

Hiccups are a condition that can, in some situations, cause feelings of shame and embarrassment and some discomfort. Usually, the hiccups are not dangerous, but may be a symptom of serious health problems, which must not be underestimated. Poles have many effective ways to hiccups. Unfortunately, it will not happen without a doctor in every case. Sometimes it is necessary to use herbal preparations, strong medications and, ultimately, to undergo surgery. 

The direct cause of hiccups is vaginal and diaphragmatic nerve stimulation. This results in rhythmic contractions of the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm. The specific noise that accompanies the hiccups appears as the effect of closing the glottis. Attacks of hiccups lasting over a few minutes and occurring very often are disturbing. Burdensome hiccups accompany many diseases – including gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease and diabetes. The hiccup reflex appears already during the child’s development in the womb. 


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The diaphragm and even nerve controlling it 

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. When air is inhaled, the diaphragm contracts and decreases. When you exhale, the diaphragm expands and rises. The rhythm of this muscle is controlled by a branched diaphragmatic nerve whose origin is around the neck and the end is in the liver. The diaphragmatic nerve, which is an even nerve, runs through the pleura, gallbladder and pericardium. Its characteristic feature is not only the exceptional length, but also a very high degree of branching. It is enough to irritate one of the nerve endings, so that the diaphragm starts irregularly, vibrate intensely. This is accompanied by a wobble of the whole body and a sudden closure of the glottis, which is responsible for the characteristic sound of hiccups. 

Harmless reasons for hiccups 

Alcohol, like carbonated drinks, causes irritation of nerve endings and muscle relaxation (the so-called “hiccups”). Despite the name, you do not have to drink large amounts of alcohol, or cause poisoning of the body, so that characteristic hiccups appear. However, in large amounts, alcohol can also cause this symptom – more severe, lasting longer and occurring much more often. A similar effect to consumption of carbonated beverages causes eating too cold and hot food, excessively spicy dishes, eating in a hurry and swallowing too large billets. 

Causes of chronic hiccups 

In medical terms, a frequent and troublesome hiccup is termed chronic. Attacks of hiccups caused by disease or other types of irregularities can last up to two days. It is easy to imagine that such ailments significantly reduce the quality of life. Chronic hiccups are very tiring – it makes it difficult to eat meals, maintain a healthy body weight and high energy levels. People with chronic hiccups often struggle with fatigue and malaise. 

The causes of chronic hiccups include cancer and inflammation located in the nervous system and other diseases associated with this system (eg Parkinson’s disease). This group of reasons includes stimulants – alcohol and drugs that, when used too much, cause poisoning of the body with toxins. Neuroses, phobias, anxiety and obsessions can also manifest themselves in hiccups, which in these cases can occur up to 20-30 times during the day. 

The second group of causes of chronic hiccups includes diseases related to the abdominal cavity, digestive system and metabolism. As an example, hypocalcemia, hyponatremia and diabetes as well as oesophageal hernia can be indicated. Other causes of chronic hiccups are elevated levels of urea in the blood and thyroid enlargement (eg due to iodine deficiency), esophageal candidiasis, liver and stomach tumors, and appendicitis. 

Hiccups can also accompany diseases of the respiratory system, heart and circulatory system. Chronic hiccups tease, among others patients suffering from pharyngitis and laryngitis, pneumonia, pericarditis and myocarditis. The fourth group of causes of hiccups is called iatrogenic factors, i.e. related to previous surgical procedures. Hiccups can cause treatments performed around the abdomen and chest. 

Hiccups at the youngest 

Even children growing in the womb can have hiccups. Its cause lies in the nervous system, which is not fully developed yet. Newborns and younger children may suffer from hiccups due to the unstimulated reflex of sucking – then they swallow large amounts of air in addition to milk or other drink. Worrying are the attacks of the hiccup in a child lasting over several minutes, returning regularly after the end of the sixth week of life – they may be a symptom of gastric reflux or other diseases of the digestive system. 

Symptoms associated with chronic hiccups 

Hiccups caused by illness or other abnormalities are accompanied by additional ailments, which should be a sign for the patient that he should report to the doctor as soon as possible. Among the ailments accompanying the chronic hiccups, among others, diarrhea, flatulence and belching, chest pain, hemoptysis, decreased appetite. 

Ways to get rid of hiccups 

The most popular way to get rid of hiccups is to drink lukewarm, boiled water, in one breath. Then the level of carbon dioxide in the body increases, which will stop the rhythmic muscle contractions. A similar effect is caused by breath holding while swallowing saliva and breathing into a paper bag. The hiccup reflex also disappears when the person who has hiccups is suddenly surprised or scared. In such situations, the person reflexively stops the air, which in turn leads to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the body. The diaphragm returns to the normal rhythm of work after eating a teaspoon of sugar, peanut butter or ice cubes, because then the body focuses on another activity. For the youngest, the most common way to get rid of the hiccups is to slap on the back or drink a drink with small sips. 

Relief of hiccups as a symptom of disease 

The ways described for the relief of hiccups described briefly work when the symptom is not the result of the development of the disease. You need to use slightly different methods for the annoying, often occurring hiccups. Very good results are the consumption of herbal infusions that have a relaxing and calming effect. The way of nutrition is also important – the hiccup is not favored by an easy to digest diet. Its appearance may be supported by the consumption of large amounts of dry food and hard-to-digest products. During their consumption, you can swallow the air reflexively. In extreme cases, you need to use pharmacological agents that have a calming and relaxing effect on the smooth muscle membrane. In the treatment of chronic hiccups, among others neuroleptics containing prochlorperazine. These are diastolic drugs. They are characterized by very strong action and are recommended only in special cases. As a last resort, when pharmacotherapy does not help, and the causes of hiccups fail to heal, the patient may undergo a diaphragmatic nerve cut. 

Is hiccups dangerous? 

Hiccups are not dangerous, but the diseases that cause it can be dangerous. However, it should be noted that in the weakened and seniors, hiccups cause a burden on the circulatory system. In addition, this persistent condition causes an increase in the symptoms of abdominal and respiratory diseases. 


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