What Does it Mean to Have the Hiccups?

07 February, 2021
Hiccups usually go away by themselves within a few minutes. Learn more about what it means to have the hiccups in this article!

If you’ve ever had the hiccups at the wrong time, you’ve probably cursed those uncontrollable noises coming from your mouth. What’s more, it’s very common for people to give you all different tips on how to get rid of them. However, do you know what hiccups really are?

Keep reading to find out more!

A little about hiccups

The word hiccup comes from ‘hippo’ which, in Greek, means horse. Although we commonly think of the word as referring to the noise we make, hiccups are actually a spasmodic, involuntary contraction of the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates our abdomen from our chest. It plays a major role in breathing, as it allows the entire rib cage to expand and contract to move air into the lungs.

Although most of the time hiccups are reversible and momentary, there are times when they can become persistent.

In this article, we’ll explain what hiccups are and everything you should know about them.

What exactly are hiccups?

As we’ve already mentioned, hiccups consist of a series of involuntary contractions of our diaphragm. When this happens, the vocal cords close suddenly, causing that ‘hip’ sound that we associate with hiccups.

The diaphragm, like any other muscle, acts in response to stimuli sent to it by nerves. In this case, the nerve that’s responsible for stimulating the movement of the diaphragm is the phrenic nerve. What happens in hiccups is that this nerve sends abnormal impulses that provoke its contraction without it being necessary.

Cases can be classified according to their duration. Cases can be acute, persistent, or intractable. Acute hiccups are the most common, lasting up to 48 hours. They’re self-limiting and usually disappear within minutes.

Persistent hiccups are those lasting between 48 hours and one month, while intractable hiccups are those lasting more than two months. The latter affects only one person in every 100,000 and is usually associated with serious diseases, such as some types of cancer.

A woman closing her eyes and tilting her head back while sitting near an exercise ball.

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Why do acute hiccups occur?

The most frequent hiccups–acute cases–are caused by simple situations such as eating too much or eating more quickly than recommended. Also, it can be caused by certain carbonated beverages or alcoholic beverages.

Similarly, it’s common to swallow air when eating chewing gum or candy; these situations are also conducive to hiccups. Interestingly, acute hiccups can appear in situations of stress or anxiety, although it’s less frequent.

Why do persistent hiccups occur?

When episodes last more than 48 hours, it may be a sign that something’s wrong with your body. First of all, you need to know that this can occur due to a lesion of the phrenic nerves. As we’ve explained, these are the nerves that are responsible for sending impulses to the diaphragm.

These nerves run from our brain to the diaphragm. During their course, they can be injured for different reasons: A tumor, a cyst, a hypertrophy of the thyroid, and even an infection that inflames the throat or the larynx.

A woman toughing her neck with a painful look on her face.

On the other hand, any injury to the central nervous system can also cause these impulses to become uncontrolled, even if the nerve is healthy. For example, this may be a brain tumor, a stroke, or an infection of the meninges.

Also, persistent cases may occur as a side effect of certain drugs or anesthetics. They can even be a symptom of diseases such as diabetes or kidney failure.

You may be interested in: The strange noises that the body makes

Final notes

In conclusion, it’s important to emphasize that most cases are acute and go away on their own in a few minutes. However, if you have the hiccups for more than 48 hours, it’s best to consult a doctor.

In these cases, the main thing is to treat the cause. If hiccups persist, studies have shown that certain medications can be used to control them, such as baclofen or chlorpromazine.

  • ¿Por qué tenemos hipo? -canalSALUD. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://www.salud.mapfre.es/enfermedades/reportajes-enfermedades/que-es-hipo/
  • Magdalena, C., Luigi, A., & González-Hernández, J. (2010). Hipo o Singulto: Fisiopatología y enfrentamiento del paciente Hiccups or Syngultus: Pathophysiology and aproach to the patient. Revista Memoriza.Com, 6, 25–31.
  • ¿Cuál es la causa del hipo? (para Niños) – KidsHealth. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://kidshealth.org/es/kids/hiccup-esp.html