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Expert Explains The Causes And Complications Of Hiccups

Hiccups are uncontrollable & repetitive contractions of the diaphragm. They can occur at any age, even during the time when a foetus is in your womb.

Sushmita Sharma
Written by: Sushmita SharmaUpdated at: Dec 30, 2022 13:59 IST
Expert Explains The Causes And Complications Of Hiccups

Hiccups or singultus are caused due to in-volunteer contraction of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle in your body that separates the area of your chest from your abdomen and regulates your breathing. Hiccups can occur at any age, even when a foetus is in your womb. We talked to our expert Dr. DN Joshi, General Physician, about the causes and treatment of hiccups and whether they indicate any serious problem.

What Are Hiccups

Dr. Joshi explained that hiccups are uncontrollable and repetitive contractions of the diaphragm. When you breathe in, the diaphragm pulls down to allow air to enter your lungs. When you breathe out, it relaxes to allow air to return to your lungs and leave through your mouth and nose. When something irritates your diaphragm, it causes spasms, forcing you to suck air in through your throat and close your voice box. This creates a distinct ‘hic’ sound, which usually lasts only a few minutes. Hiccups are mostly rhythmic, which means that the interval between each hiccup is relatively constant. 

Also Read: How To Get Rid Of Hiccups? Know Pressure Points For Instant Relief

Causes of Hiccups

There can be various causes for hiccups among people. Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • Overeating/eating too quickly
  • Eating spicy food can irritate the phrenic nerve located near the oesophagus
  • Sudden change in temperature
  • Stress/excitement
  • Swallowing too much air
  • Overconsumption of alcohol or drinking carbonated beverages

There are cases when the hiccups can last longer; for 48 hours or more. If your hiccups last for 48 hours, it is considered persistent, while hiccups that last more than two months are called intractable hiccups. In such  cases, it becomes necessary to contact your doctor for help. Here  are some of the causes of chronic hiccups:

  • Gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Most persistent hiccups are caused due to irritation or injury to the vagus or phrenic nerve, which is responsible for controlling your diaphragm’s movement
  • Conditions affecting the central nervous system like brain tumours, traumatic brain injury, or strokes
  • Liver and Kidney problems
  • Respiratory conditions like asthma and pneumonia
  • Excessive intake of alcohol

Complications Of Untreated Hiccups

Hiccups that last longer and are left untreated can impact your health in many ways. They can disturb your sleeping and eating patterns and lead to exhaustion, sleepiness, weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition.

When To Visit A Doctor

Hiccups usually occur for a short time and are not something to worry about. However, if your hiccups last for more than two days, consult with your doctor. The doctor will examine the severity of your hiccups and give you the necessary treatment.


Hiccups can occur in anyone and are usually not a cause of concern. However, if your hiccups last for more than 48 hours or interfere with your eating or sleeping without any known cause, consult with your doctor immediately. Mental or emotional issues like anxiety, stress or excitement and general anaesthesia after surgery can also become a risk factor for hiccups. Holding your breath, taking deep breaths, or drinking cold water may help you relieve short-term hiccups.