How Hiccups Are Treated

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In This Article

Hiccups happen when you have repeated involuntary spasms of the diaphragm. This might be caused by eating too much or too quickly, having a bloated stomach, drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages, or experiencing a stressful situation. Whatever the reason, most people want to know how to get rid of hiccups quickly before they become a nuisance.

Most of the time you can get rid of hiccups by trying various home remedies. Different remedies may work for different people or at some times, but not others. Hiccups are often short-lived, but in severe cases that don't resolve, you may need to see a physician.

While hiccups usually last for a few minutes, sometimes they last for much longer. Persistent episodes of hiccups last longer than 48 hours, and intractable episodes last longer than two months. These rare cases are more likely to have an underlying medical condition that needs medication or other treatment.

Home Remedies

Almost everyone will experience hiccups at some point. Mild cases of hiccups usually stop on their own and don’t require treatment. You may still want to get rid of hiccups since they can be uncomfortable even after a few minutes.

It’s not always clear how to get rid of hiccups since the cause isn’t well understood. One reason may be irritated nerves. The phrenic nerve runs from the neck to the diaphragm, and the vagus nerve connects the brain to the stomach. Both nerves are important for breathing and can cause contractions of the diaphragm. Another reason may be low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. 

Different home remedies can work for different people, although most—at best—have only anecdotal evidence. Try one of these remedies to see what works for you:

  • Hold your breath
  • Valsava maneuver: Exhale while closing your mouth and pinching your nose.
  • Breathe into a paper bag (Never use a plastic bag, since it can cling to your nostrils.)
  • Eat a spoonful of sugar, dry bread, or crushed ice
  • Gently pull on your tongue
  • Have someone scare you
  • Gargle or drink cold water
  • Drink water while bending over (Do not attempt this if you have trouble swallowing.)
  • Apply light pressure to your eyes

One theory behind many of the tricks listed above is that they stimulate the vagus nerve by causing some irritation to the pharynx, or throat. Another theory is that some of these remedies increase the carbon dioxide in your lungs to relax the diaphragm.

Prescriptions

If your hiccups last more than 48 hours, make an appointment with your physician to determine the cause. Persistent or intractable hiccups are rare but can be caused by another medical condition, including gastrointestinal and abdominal disorders, cancer, stroke, or tumor. In these cases, hiccups might not go away until the issue is corrected.

Some medications may be prescribed to stop hiccups in cases where the cause can’t be easily determined. Those medications include:

  • Thorazine (chlorpromazine)
  • Lioresal (baclofen)
  • Reglan (metoclopramide)
  • Neurontin (gabapentin) 

Medication may also be given to treat the issues that cause hiccups. For example, hiccups caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may respond to the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which reduce stomach acid production.

Patients with brain ischemia or stroke can have intractable hiccups, which may be resolved with anticoagulant therapy. 

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

When medication doesn’t work for persistent and intractable hiccups, your doctor may try other procedures. One option is to block one of the phrenic nerves that control the diaphragm by injecting it with procaine, a local anesthetic.

If this injection works, but your hiccups return, another option is a phrenicotomy, which involves surgical division of the phrenic nerve. This procedure is reserved for severe cases and isn’t a guaranteed cure.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Acupuncture has been studied as a method to treat persistent hiccups in cancer patients. A 2010 study found that acupuncture treatment helped resolve persistent hiccups as well as improved fatigue and discomfort. 

Off-Label Treatment

Tessalon Perles (benzonatate), a cough medicine, is sometimes used as an off-label treatment for hiccups that don’t respond to standard treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Most cases of the hiccups are an annoyance rather than a medical problem. Preventing an over-distended stomach by eating or drinking slowly, reducing carbonated beverages, and limiting alcohol is the best way to avoid developing the hiccups. If your hiccups last longer than 48 hours, see your doctor.

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Article Sources

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