Almost everyone gets the hiccups from time to time. Hiccups typically are harmless and go away after a few minutes. Rarely, hiccups may persist for days or even weeks.

What is it?

The diaphragm almost always works perfectly. When you inhale, it pulls down to help pull air into the lungs. When you exhale, it pushes up to help push air out of the lungs. But sometimes the diaphragm becomes irritated. When this happens, it pulls down in a jerky way, which makes you suck air into your throat suddenly. When the air rushing in hits your voice box, you're left with a big hiccup.

Some things that irritate the diaphragm are eating too quickly or too much, an irritation in the stomach or the throat, or feeling nervous or excited. Almost all cases of the hiccups last only a few minutes. Some cases of the hiccups can last for days or weeks, but this is very unusual, and it's usually a sign of another medical problem.

What causes it?

Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of your diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. This involuntary contraction causes your vocal cords to close very briefly, which produces the characteristic sound of a hiccup.

Often, there may be no obvious cause for hiccups. But possible causes include:

  • Irritation to the nerves that control normal contractions of the diaphragm — such as due to eating hot or spicy foods or drinking carbonated liquids.
  • Eating a large meal. Hiccups are more likely to occur when your stomach is full.
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Smoking.
  • Sudden excitement or emotional stress.

What are the symptoms?

  • Hiccuping sound.
  • Recurring cough-like sound.
  • Recurring diaphragm muscle contractions.

Are there any natural therapies?

There is no one proven cure for the hiccups. Different things may work at different times and for different people. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the following hiccup remedies may be effective:

  • Holding your breath.
  • Slowly drinking a cold glass of water.
  • Breathing into a paper bag.
  • Eating a spoonful of sugar.
  • Having someone startle you.
  • Gently massaging the back of the roof of your mouth with a cotton swab for a minute or so.
  • Chamomile tea is calming and antispasmodic and may help to relieve the spasm of the diaphragm. Drink a cup or two to help soothe your hiccups.

What else can I do?

Attempt the measures listed above, however if your hiccups last longer than 48 hours, consult your doctor. In some cases of prolonged hiccups, prescription medications may help.

Did you know?

The Guinness World Record for the longest continuous bout of hiccups (1922-1990) goes to Charles Osborne (1894-1991) from Anthon, Iowa. The hiccups started in 1922 at a rate of 40 times per minute, slowing to 20 and eventually stopping in February 1990 – a total of 68 years.