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Hiccups occur when the diaphragm suddenly and involuntarily contracts (tightens), resulting in a hiccup sound being produced at the top of the windpipe.
The medical name for hiccups is "singultus".
The diaphragm is a thin membrane of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen (tummy). It is underneath the ribcage and helps to control breathing.
Hiccups are a reflex action, which means that you do not have any control over them. Hiccups are not usually serious and in most cases only last a few minutes.
In rare cases, hiccups can last for a long time. Hiccups that last more than 48 hours can be categorised into:
Hiccups are common and most people will get them at some point during their life. They can affect people of any age, including babies. Men and women are equally affected by episodes of short-lived hiccups.
However, for reasons that are unclear, persistent and intractable hiccups are more common in men. Intractable hiccups are more common in adults. These types of hiccups can be tiring and upsetting, and can make eating and drinking difficult.
It is important to remember that persistent and intractable hiccups are rare and usually caused by another underlying health condition. In 80% of cases of persistent or intractable hiccups, a cause can be identified. The remaining 20% of cases usually have a psychological cause.
Read more about the causes of hiccups.
Most hiccups will pass quickly and usually only last a few minutes. Treatment is not usually required.
However, in cases of persistent or intractable hiccups that last longer than 48 hours, further investigations are needed to identify the cause and appropriate treatment.
Read more about how hiccups are diagnosed.
As well as treatment for underlying conditions, there are also self-help techniques that may help some people to stop common types of hiccups.
Read more information about treating hiccups.
Hiccups occur when your diaphragm (the thin layer of muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdomen) suddenly and involuntarily contracts (tightens).
As your diaphragm contracts, it causes you to breathe in air very quickly. The incoming air is stopped when your glottis (the opening between your vocal cords) closes suddenly, producing the characteristic sound of a hiccup.
Most cases of hiccups occur for no apparent reason. Everyone experiences a short bout of hiccups from time to time. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about.
The most common causes of short-term hiccups are:
Sometimes, short-term hiccups may also occur as a result of:
See below for more information about psychological factors that can cause hiccups.
People experiencing short-term hiccups usually get better without the need for treatment.
In rare cases, persistent and intractable hiccups can be caused by a more serious underlying condition, such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) (see below). However, in other cases the cause of hiccups remains unknown (idiopathic).
Several conditions can cause hiccups. However, even with testing and investigation an underlying cause can sometimes not be identified.
Some of the conditions that can cause long-term hiccups include:
Persistent hiccups can sometimes be caused by a reaction to certain types of medication. For example:
Prolonged hiccups can sometimes cause a number of complications. For example, in some cases it can lead to:
Visit your doctor or another healthcare professional if you have hiccups that have lasted longer than 48 hours and you are unsure about what is causing them.
Hiccups that last for less than 48 hours and stop on their own do not require a diagnosis from your doctor.
Visit your doctor if you have had hiccups for longer than 48 hours. They will look at your medical history and may carry out a physical examination to try to establish the cause.
The aim of the physical examination is to try to find out what is causing your hiccups, such as identifying any underlying condition that may be contributing to the problem. Areas of your body your doctor may want to examine include:
If your doctor suspects your hiccups are due to another condition, they may refer you for tests such as:
Most cases of hiccups do not require medical treatment and will usually stop after a short period of time.
However, there are steps you can try which may help to stop your hiccups. These include:
If an underlying health condition is causing your hiccups, treating it will help to resolve the problem. If your hiccups are persistent, or last longer than 48 hours (intractable), your doctor will investigate whether an underlying condition may be causing them.
Read more information about how hiccups are diagnosed.
Some conditions that cause persistent and intractable hiccups may need to be assessed and treated by a specialist. If this is the case, your doctor will refer you to the appropriate healthcare professional, who will carry out further investigations and recommend appropriate treatment.
If your hiccups last for 48 hours or more, and your doctor feels it appropriate, you may be prescribed medication. If your child has persistent or intractable hiccups, they will usually have to visit a specialist before being prescribed medication.
Medication for hiccups is often only used when other forms of treatment have failed or if no underlying cause can be found.
Some medicines that you may be prescribed for the treatment of long-term hiccups include:
Your doctor will usually prescribe a two-week course of medicine for you and they may gradually increase the dosage until your hiccups are brought under control. The length of time you will need to take the medicine will depend on your individual circumstances, including:
All medicines can cause side effects. Therefore, before taking any, seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects you may experience.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.