Can You Die From Hiccups? No, Here’s Why

Hiccups are normally short-lived, although some cases may point to underlying health issues. Regardless, it is not common for people to die from hiccups.

Hiccups are caused by the involuntary contraction of your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is the muscular structure found between your chest and abdomen, which you use for breathing. During breathing, the diaphragm contracts to let air into your lungs and relaxes to expel the air out of your nose.

When it gets irritated, there would be irregular contractions that force you to suck air into your throat and hit your voice box. As a result, your voice box closes and you hear the “hic” sound of hiccups. 

a woman covering her mouth at breakfast
skynesher / Getty Images

Are Hiccups Dangerous?

Hiccups can happen in adults, children, or babies. They are normal, but if your hiccups are not going away for a long period of time, they may signal a more serious health issue.

There are two types of hiccups. The ones that stick around for more than two days are called persistent hiccups, whereas the ones that linger for more than a month are known as intractable hiccups. Intractable hiccups can be part of a larger, underlying medical problem and might not go away until that issue is corrected.

Some of these larger, underlying conditions include:

  • Cancer and tumors
  • Stroke
  • Disorders of the stomach or esophagus, including GERD 
  • Pleuritis (inflammation of the lining of the lung)
  • Uremia (abnormally high levels of waste products in the blood)
  • Pneumonia
  • Bowel diseases
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hepatitis and liver cancer

Hiccups can also happen after surgery and during the recovery process from a procedure. See a healthcare provider if your hiccups last for a long period of time.

Related Symptoms

Persistent hiccups can generally affect your overall well-being. Having hiccups all day can affect your:

  • Eating habits
  • Sleeping pattern
  • Speech
  • Mood

And these effects can lead to other problems like:

  • Tiredness
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition

Causes of Hiccups

A lot of things can cause hiccups, from dehydration to illnesses that involve your nervous system. However, there’s no standard list of triggers since you can experience hiccups at any time for no reason. 

Common Reasons

A few common causes of hiccups are:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking too much soda (carbonated drinks)
  • Eating ice-cold or hot food
  • A sudden change in air temperature
  • Eating spicy food
  • Excessive eating
  • Excitement
  • Swallowing excess air which may be caused by smoking

Medications

Some medications can cause hiccups as a side effect, including:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anesthesia
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Corticosteroids, especially dexamethasone
  • Opioids

Associated Conditions

Long-term hiccups are a sign that a person might have an underlying condition. They could also be the result of a procedure carried out to treat a different ailment.

Persistent hiccups are associated with diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Any damage that happens to your CNS—which includes your brain and spinal cord—can cause your body to lose control of hiccups.

Conditions that damage the CNS include:

  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Brain tumors
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes)
  • Brain injury
  • Seizures

Abnormalities in the vital organs of your body like your liver, lung, heart, and kidney, plus your stomach, can also lead to persistent hiccups. These conditions include:

  • Hepatitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure

Say you had an unrelated medical procedure like a bronchoscopy. It can lead to long-term hiccups. Other procedures that can cause hiccups include:

  • Accessing your heart muscle using catheters
  • Using an esophageal stent to open the esophagus
  • Performing a tracheostomy

How to Stop Hiccups

Hiccups are completely normal, and they typically last for only a couple of minutes. You can wait it out before rushing to see your doctor.

Although the steps below vary per individual, here are a list of things you can try to stop hiccups:

  • Pull your knees up to your chest and lean forward.
  • Hold your breath for five to 10 seconds.
  • Sip chilled water.
  • Gargle water.
  • Swallow a small amount of granulated sugar.
  • Breathe into a paper bag, but avoid putting it over your head.
  • Bite on a lemon or taste vinegar.

But avoid:

  • Drinking alcoholic, fizzy, or hot beverages
  • Eating spicy food
  • Eating food very quickly
  • Eating or drinking ice-cold liquid immediately after something hot
  • Doing things that can make you swallow air like chewing gum or smoking

Considerations

If your hiccups last for more than two days or prevent you from completing daily tasks like sleeping and eating, you should see your doctor immediately. 

Often, long-lasting hiccups are a sign of an underlying condition. Your doctor will order various tests to diagnose the illness and treat it effectively.

Nevertheless, these persistent or intractable hiccups can be treated with certain drugs like:

  • Metoclopramide
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Haloperidol
  • Gabapentin
  • Baclofen
  • A proton pump inhibitor, if due to GERD

Summary

People don’t usually die from hiccups. However, prolonged hiccups could be a sign that you have an underlying condition that’s causing the hiccups. Some conditions that cause intractable hiccups, which last for more than a month, could be life-threatening if left untreated, such as cancer, stroke, and pneumonia. Therefore, if you have hiccups that won’t go away even after trying home remedies, you should see your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Generally, hiccups will leave on their own after a few minutes, but they can also last longer—for days to months. When this happens, it could affect your daily activities, and you may experience exhaustion and malnutrition. 

Although hiccups are not fatal, their persistence can signal an underlying illness that needs immediate medical attention. If your hiccups last more than 48 hours, see your doctor so they can help you treat them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do hiccups affect heart rate?

Yes, hiccups can affect a person’s heart rate, but it depends on the severity of the hiccup. Intractable hiccups are found to cause greater variability in heart rate.

How long do hiccups last on average?

Hiccups lasts between one to two hours on average. But if you notice that your hiccups don’t go away after 48 hours, you have persistent hiccups and should seek immediate medical attention. 

What conditions are associated with constant hiccups?

Constant hiccups may signify certain medical conditions like pneumonia, stomach disorders, or gastrointestinal diseases. Hiccups may also be caused by pancreatitis, pregnancy, urinary tract infection, or hepatitis.

Do terminally ill patients hiccup before death? 

Terminally ill patients usually experience intractable hiccups before death. A range of medications prescribed by a palliative care physician can help relieve the discomfort of these hiccups.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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