Hiccups happen when your diaphragm, a muscle between your chest and your stomach, suddenly contracts.
Your diaphragm helps control your breathing. When you breathe in, it contracts and moves downwards. Your vocal cords (glottis) at the top of your throat then close to control the intake of air. When you breathe out, your diaphragm relaxes and air passes out of your lungs via your nose and mouth.
If your diaphragm suddenly contracts, when your glottis then closes, a 'hic' sound is produced. Anyone can get hiccups, even a foetus growing in the womb. However, men are much more likely than women to get long-term hiccups, ie hiccups that last longer than two days.
In most cases, hiccups last only a few minutes, go away on their own and do not need treatment. Hiccups that last more than two days or keep coming back could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
The medical term for hiccups is singultus, which is Latin for gasp or sob.
A short (transient) bout of hiccups often starts or stops without an obvious cause. Things that can irritate your diaphragm and trigger transient hiccups include:
Avoiding these triggers may help reduce how often you have short-term hiccups.
Hiccups that last more than two days (persistent hiccups) or that keep coming back (recurrent hiccups) may have an underlying medical cause.
This could be a condition that’s affecting your diaphragm or the nerves in your head and neck which control the movement of your diaphragm. These include:
Long-term hiccups can also be a side effect of medication you’re taking, such as:
Certain tranquilizers can also cause long-term hiccups, as can stomach surgery and general anaesthesia.
You are more likely to get long-term hiccups if you have a condition that affects your metabolism, the process that converts food to energy. These include:
In rare cases, long-term hiccups may also be a symptom of conditions that affect your central nervous system, such as:
You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.
See your GP if your hiccups last for more than 48 hours, keep coming back or are making it harder to eat, drink or sleep normally.
Your GP will diagnose hiccups from your symptoms. They may refer you for other tests and scans to find out what is causing them, such as:
You should seek urgent medical attention if your hiccups occur alongside:
n most cases, you won’t need treatment for hiccups. Some people find that these self-help hiccup cures get rid of hiccups, although there is no proof to support whether or not they are effective:
If your hiccups are affecting your everyday life, your GP might recommend:
Depending on the cause of your hiccups, your GP may refer you to a specialist, such as a:
Specialist treatments include:
To reduce your risk of getting hiccups, try to avoid eating or drinking too much or too quickly.
Hiccups in newborns, babies and infants are usually not something to worry about and will go away on their own.
If hiccups occur while feeding, try stopping feeding and waiting until the hiccups go away. If the hiccups don't go away after a few minutes, resuming feeding may help them stop.
If feeding a baby, you can try changing their position to help them burp or calm them down until the hiccups stop. If your baby often hiccups when feeding, try to feed them before they get too hungry and while they are relaxed.
If your baby or infant has hiccups that are upsetting them or are getting worse, see your GP.
Hiccups rarely cause complications as they usually go away on their own. However, if you have severe or persistent hiccups that disturb your ability to eat, drink or sleep normally, you may unintentionally lose weight or develop sleep problems.
In rare but severe cases of hiccups, heart arrhythmias or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) may occur.
What causes hiccups while sleeping?
Anything that irritates your diaphragm can trigger hiccups. This may occur when you’re sleeping if you have recently eaten a large or spicy meal, eaten too quickly or drunk a fizzy or alcoholic drink. You may also get hiccup if you are feeling anxious, excited or stressed. If you have persistent hiccups while sleeping, you may have an underlying medical condition that is triggering them — you should therefore see your GP.
Do hiccups go away when you sleep?
Hiccups can occur while you are sleeping and consequently disturb your sleep. If your hiccups are making it difficult for you to sleep, eat or drink, see your GP.
How do you stop hiccups in your sleep?
If an underlying medical condition is causing your hiccups, you will need to see your GP for treatment. Otherwise, try to avoid eating large or spicy meals or drinking fizzy drinks or alcohol too close to bedtime — this may reduce your risk of hiccups. Hiccups will normally go away on their own after a few minutes.