We have all experienced hiccups more than once in our lives. If it happens once it usually produces laughter, but when it happens repeatedly it becomes quite annoying, since we cannot control it. But, where does that strange sound that comes out of the throat without warning come from?
Hiccups, contrary to what we think, do not start in the throat or mouth, but in a muscle called the diaphragm, which is located between the lungs and the stomach. This dome-shaped muscle is primarily responsible for breathing: in the normal course of breathing, the diaphragm contracts rhythmically and continuously, allowing air to flow in and out of the lungs.
Hiccups appear when, due to a problem in the diaphragm, this muscle goes into spasm and the normal rhythm of the process of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the outside is altered. But beyond its motor origin, the role that hiccups have in our body is still unknown and this remains a great enigma for researchers. In this article we will discover a little more about hiccups and the different known causes of this involuntary physiological process.
- We recommend you read: “Why do we yawn? Science gives us the answer”
What is hiccups?
The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and controls breathing. When the diaphragm contracts, inhalation occurs, the air enters our body and reaches the lungs. When you relax, exhalation occurs, the lungs let carbon dioxide out of our body, this whole process is done rhythmically and repetitively.
In essence, hiccups are a reflex, it originates when the normal breathing process is altered, due to a spasm of the diaphragm. When this dome-shaped muscle contracts repetitively and uncontrollably, it forces the lungs to release air in a sudden, jerky fashion, producing the characteristic sound we associate with hiccups.
Every time the diaphragm contracts suddenly and rapidly, the larynx and vocal cords snap shut, forcing air into the lungs quickly. The body responds with a jolt or a sound. The hiccups start and stop for no apparent reason. And while it’s annoying, it usually lasts less than a minute. However, in some cases episodes of more than 48 hours can occur, this condition is known as persistent hiccups or chronic hiccups.
Hiccups can be annoying at times, but it’s natural and usually doesn’t hide anything serious. However, when it occurs frequently or the episode lasts much longer than normal, as in the case of chronic hiccups, there may be an underlying condition that requires a doctor’s attention. In addition, in the case of chronic hiccups, it can lead to other health problems, both physical and mental, since it can affect sleep and diet, but also mood. Recurrent hiccups can affect the quality of life and relationships of people who suffer from it.
Why do hiccups appear?
There are many reasons why hiccups occur and although we know the process, the origin is unknown. Recently, research has been carried out to understand why the diaphragm suffers these spasms so frequently and if there are some factors that are more determining than others. Some causes of hiccups are more common than others. The most common triggers are responsible for almost all cases of hiccups and cause brief, mild hiccups. Less common triggers are related to chronic or recurring hiccups.
Common causes of hiccups
100% of people have experienced hiccups at some point in their life, and we will all experience it many more times. Usually, hiccups appear when there is a failure in the nerve responsible for controlling the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm. Breathing is an involuntary process. The autonomic nervous system controls the function of the diaphragm muscle, and sometimes it can get out of control for a moment. As we have seen, when this happens, hiccups appear. There are many reasons why the system responsible for controlling breathing can stop working properly, from being born with a neuralgic problem to muscle irritation.
There is no exact list of things that cause hiccups, but many reasons are described that can cause hiccups. Hiccups, just as they appear, often go away on their own and for no apparent reason. There are some common causes for which a person can have hiccups, such as smoking, drinking carbonated beverages, drinking too much alcohol, temperature changes, sleeping poorly, being stressed or eating too much or too fast… Etc.
As we can see, the function of the diaphragm can be negatively affected by many daily situations. Also, some sore throats and gastroesophageal reflux can lead to more severe and recurring cases. However, hiccups do not appear the same in all people, this also remains unknown. Some people get hiccups every time they enjoy a large meal. without this being considered pathological, and others present hiccups very anecdotally. The different functioning of the nerve that controls the diaphragm can have many different causes, still unknown.
Uncommon causes of hiccups
Hiccups are usually not a sign of any underlying health problem, and people need not worry. Unless it lasts a long time or the episodes are recurring, hiccups shouldn’t need any treatment. However, hiccups that last more than 48 hours are considered chronic and should be a cause for medical attention.
Some recurrent hiccups are due to serious nervous system problems and may hide an underlying pathological condition. A quick diagnosis can affect the development and evolution of the disorder that causes it, which is important, since there is no cure for many neurological problems, but early treatment can be offered.
There are different diseases that affect the central nervous system where hiccups appear as a symptom. The most severe cases of hiccups may hide one of these neurological pathologies: a CNS tumor, meningitis, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, traumatic injury to the central nervous system, or a stroke.
There are many other reasons why hiccups can persist for longer than is considered normal. These causes include alcohol abuse, having had general anesthesia for surgery, having diabetes, taking steroids or tranquilizers, having kidney disease, or altered hormones due to various conditions. Although this is not always the case, the people you have on your list, one or more of these risk factors are more likely to experience prolonged episodes of hiccups than the rest of the population.
How to make hiccups disappear?
As we have seen, there are many circumstances and situations that can increase the risk of hiccups, such as emotions, alcohol, smoking, food, etc. There are remedies that can help hiccups disappear, although they are not 100% effective. It is important to insist that if the hiccups appear recurrently or for a long time, you should go to the doctor, to find out what the underlying problem is and offer a treatment plan.
Relax and breathe in a slow and controlled way: the best thing to do to make hiccups go away is to wait, since this physiological process just as it comes, it goes away, and breathing and the diaphragm return to work in a correct and coordinated way, a few minutes after the onset of hiccups. But, if this lasts for more than five minutes – or more – or discomfort begins to be noticed in the abdomen, a series of guidelines can be put into practice to make it disappear voluntarily.
As for other conditions, not being sure of the origin of the hiccups, the guidelines may not work for some people. In addition, it is difficult to have control over the autonomic nervous system and force the diaphragm to stop contracting as it has been doing. One of the most useful techniques to stop hiccups has to do with breathing control. You can hold your breath for a few seconds or limit the amount of air that enters your lungs by using a paper bag.. Other home remedies include:
- Take a teaspoon of sugar.
- Drink cold water.
- Toss out the tongue
- Lift the uvula with the help of a spoon.
- Gasp or burp
- Bring your knees to your chest until you touch your abdomen
- Perform the Valsalva maneuver.
There is no sure way to stop hiccups and these methods may not work for some people. If you have frequent hiccups without being worrying, there are different ways to prevent it, including not exposing yourself to the most common factors that cause it. It has been shown to be effective in preventing hiccups: avoid large meals and do not drink carbonated or fizzy drinks. In addition, not exposing yourself to stressful situations or reducing alcohol consumption can have benefits for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Hiccups, except in exceptional cases, are natural and not worrying: 100% of the population have occasional hiccups, and they do not usually hide any more serious health problem. It is a simple reflex of the nervous system, which involves the diaphragm, in different common situations such as overeating or drinking soft drinks.
Usually, hiccups, just as they appear suddenly, disappear without warning in a few minutes. Although it goes away on its own, hiccups are an annoying sensation and if they last for more than a few minutes, there are a number of home remedies that can help them go away more quickly. Some guidelines can also be applied to help prevent its appearance. Finally, if the hiccups last for more than 2 days, it is advisable to see a doctor to find out and treat the underlying health problem.