Hiccups: Causes and Prevention

Santosh Mehta, 73, had been living a healthy life till one day he had hiccups that went on for 30-40 seconds.

Published: 07th April 2021 04:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th April 2021 10:36 AM   |  A+A-


For representational purposes (Amit Bandre | Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

Santosh Mehta, 73, had been living a healthy life till one day he had hiccups that went on for 30-40 seconds.

Though he found it unusual, he didn’t think much of it. But the same thing happened after a few days, and this time the hiccups continued for a longer period of time.

Mehta kept having hiccups after every few days, with increased duration each time till one day he couldn’t stop, necessitating him to see a doctor. What the doctor told him shocked him. The tranquilisers he had been taking had caused these hiccups.

“Along with the physical examination, I had to undergo a number of blood tests and scans to find out what was causing these hiccups,” he says.

While occasional hiccups are common and get resolved quickly on their own, chronic hiccups, though rare, are difficult to treat.

It is important to consult a doctor if your hiccups last for more than two days or if you have multiple hiccup episodes that are re-occurring more frequently over time, as this could be a symptom of serious medical condition. 

Why hiccups happen?

These happen when the diaphragm contracts involuntarily, making the vocal cords shut rapidly, making the sound. Hiccups usually last a a brief time and are not usually a medical concern.

Common causes of these are eating large quantities of food, drinking fizzy or hot drinks, smoking, eating too quickly and becoming excited, stressed, or scared.

But if these last for more than two days, or if you have recurring episodes then these are considered chronic.

Chronic hiccups indicate a medical issue, and even if there is none, these can cause health issues like exhaustion (having sleepless nights because of excessive hiccups) or severe weight loss (as these interfere with eating).

Sometimes anxiety or other mental health issues, abdominal surgeries, illnesses of the liver, bowel, stomach, or diaphragm can cause chronic hiccups. 

Other possible reasons include chemotherapy and anti-depressant drugs, chest infection, brain tumour, lung infection or metabolic reasons like low sodium. Alcohol addiction can also cause hiccups. 

Recent research into covid 19 has shown that persistent hiccups is one of the signs of coronavirus infection!

Incidentally, chronic hiccups happen more often in men than women.

Expert speak

“There are many reasons that cause hiccups, most are benign and related to food you eat and how you eat it. Chronic hiccups point to a health issue that involves the autonomic nervous system. This is the system which controls your body’s unconscious actions, like breathing, heartbeat, and digestive tract functions,” says Dr Amit Batra, Principal Consultant Neurologist, Max Balaji.

“Sometimes, medication may not be sufficient to resolve chronic hiccups and surgery may be required to block the phrenic nerve which controls the diaphragm,” he adds.

How to prevent hiccups

  • Avoid carbonated drinks and alcohol

  • Take small meals

  • Try not to consume water while having food

  • Do not lie down immediately after eating food



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