A sudden and involuntary intake of air, producing an unmistakable sound

  • Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

Almost everyone has occasional attacks of hiccups. Usually, they last for only a few minutes and are no cause for concern. When you have hiccups, the muscles you use in order to breathe in, primarily the diaphragm, contract suddenly, causing a sharp intake of breath. This is interrupted almost immediately by an involuntary closure of the throat, which causes the characteristic sound of a hiccup. Hiccups occur even before birth; babies hiccup inside the uterus, possibly in preparation for breathing.

What are the causes?

In most cases, there is no obvious cause for hiccups. If they are persistent, hiccups may be due to physical irritation of the diaphragm or the nerves that supply it. Such irritation may be caused by a gastrointestinal problem, such as abnormal stretching of the stomach as a result of an obstruction. In rare cases, hiccups are a symptom of a severe imbalance in body chemistry caused by disorders such as kidney failure or liver failure.

What might be done?

There are a vast number of popular home remedies for hiccups, such as holding your breath or drinking a glass of water rapidly. If your hiccups are persistent, your doctor may prescribe a drug that relaxes your diaphragm, such as chlorpromazine (see Antipsychotic drugs).

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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