Hiccups are a repetitive tightening of the diaphragm, coupled with a “swallowing” sound that comes from the closing of the vocal cords. The diaphragm is a muscle under the rib cage that separates the chest and abdomen. This muscle is an important part of the breathing process. It moves downward when you inhale and upward when you exhale.
When you hiccup, two things happen:
- Your diaphragm pulls down between breaths, so you suck in air.
- The glottis (the space between the vocal cords) closes to prevent more air from coming in.
These processes create the “hic” sound of hiccups. The process of hiccups happens very quickly, and you usually return to normal within minutes to a few hours without treatment.
What causes Hiccups?
It is not clear why people get hiccups. There are several reasons for hiccups, including low carbon dioxide levels in the blood and irritated nerves. The phrenic nerve (which connects the throat to the diaphragm) and the vagus nerve (which connects the brain to the stomach) are important parts of the breathing process.
Mild hiccups (which go away after a short time) may occur if you:
- Eat or drink too quickly.
- Drink carbonated beverages or alcohol.
- Eat too much.
- Experience stress – including anxiety and excitement.
- Hyperextend your neck.
- Taking medications (especially anti-anxiety medications – benzodiazepines).
- Drinking a very hot or very cold drink.
- You are undergoing chemotherapy.
- You are being anesthetized for a procedure.
- Inhale toxic fumes.
Here’s why you Hiccup after Eating:
One of the most frustrating feelings of all is hiccuping after a big meal. One minute you’re breathing normally, and the next? It feels like you can’t take a breath or say a sentence without getting the hiccups. A few of them are kind of cute and amusing, but if they last too long? Then that’s a whole other level of annoyance. To prevent them, you need to know how they started in the first place.
Hiccups are an involuntary contraction or cramping of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large muscle at the base of the lungs that contracts and flattens when you breathe in. This causes the lungs to expand and air to be sucked in. The sound of a hiccup “is produced by the closing of the vocal cords, which occurs almost immediately after the diaphragm begins to contract.”
One main reason for hiccups after a meal is when you eat too much at one time. When you eat too much, your stomach expands and becomes bloated, which means it can press on your diaphragm, causing cramps (also called hiccups).
These cramps can also be caused by eating very fast. When you eat too fast, you swallow too much air, which in turn causes your stomach to bloat.
Sometimes it’s not how you eat at all, but what you eat. Foods that are too hot, too cold, or too spicy are more likely to trigger hiccups. That’s because these foods can stimulate nerves in the esophagus, causing reflexive spasms of the diaphragm. Carbonated drinks and alcohol cause air bubbles that can distend the stomach and trigger hiccups. Foods that cause bloating can also cause hiccups.
So if you want to avoid hiccups after eating, eat slowly, don’t eat too much, and avoid certain foods. To prevent hiccups altogether, Medical Daily recommends drinking water while covering your ears or pulling your tongue out of your mouth.
How can I treat Hiccups?
Since the exact cause of hiccups is unknown, some home remedies may not work. These home remedies won’t hurt you, so it usually doesn’t hurt to try them. Home remedies include:
- Drinking water quickly.
- Swallowing granulated sugar, dry pieces of bread or crushed ice.
- Gently pulling on the tongue.
- Gagging (sticking a finger down the throat).
- Gently rubbing the eyeballs.
- Gargling water.
- Holding your breath.
- Breathing into a paper bag (do not use a plastic bag).
What does it mean if the hiccups last longer than two days?
If the hiccups do not disappear within a few days, they are called “persistent”. If the hiccups last for a few months, they are called ” ‘intractable” (long-lasting hiccups). Long-lasting hiccups are rare. It can be distressing and exhausting. Persistent hiccups may be part of a larger, underlying medical problem and may not go away until that problem is resolved.
Some of these larger, underlying medical conditions are:
- Cancer and tumors.
- Diseases of the stomach or esophagus, including GERD (a gastrointestinal and abdominal disease).
- Inflammation of the pleura of the diaphragm.
- Intestinal diseases.
- Pancreatitis and bladder irritation.
- Hepatitis and liver cancer.
- Tumors and lesions.
Hiccups may also occur after surgery and during the recovery process after surgery. Seek medical attention if your hiccups persist for a long period of time.
How are hiccups diagnosed?
Diagnosing hiccups is not complicated. Your healthcare provider only needs to listen for the “hiccup” sound.
However, your healthcare provider may perform a physical exam to determine if an underlying condition is causing your hiccups. If the physical exam finds anything worrisome, he or she may order tests such as imaging studies, endoscopic exams, and lab tests.
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