Hiccups are common. But are they something to get worried about?

Hiccups are probably one of the most annoying things we have experienced. All those ancient remedies of causing sudden fright or drinking plenty of water are well known. But what are hiccups medically? In medical terms, it is called “Singultus”, which means ‘the act of catching one's breath while sobbing”. It is caused by sudden contractions of the diaphragm with a brief closure of glottis in the larynx or voice box to produce the ‘hic' sound.

Causes

Normally it occurs without any precipitating factor but there are certain conditions associated with hiccups. One is eating too fast (leads to swallowing a lot of air) or eating too much, especially fatty foods. It may also be due to the positioning of your stomach underneath the diaphragm causing irritation and contraction.Drinking carbonated beverages, alcohol, prolonged laughter, intense emotions, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are also known to cause hiccups. Though rare, hiccups may also be induced by disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system, kidney or liver problems, in some cancer patients or due to certain drugs like Benzodiazepines or dexamethasone.

Remedies

Hiccups resolve either spontaneously or with some home remedies and usually in a few minutes. If they last longer than 48 hours, they are considered persistent or protracted; if it's longer than one month it is called intractable. For reasons as yet unknown, this is more common in men.

Many traditional remedies can be tried. like swallowing granulated sugar, simple gargling with water, drinking from the far side of a glass, holding one's breath, keeping the knees in line with the chest and leaning forward, distraction of attention ... Other methods of treatment are aimed at treating the specific cause.

Quick facts

Causes: eating too fast/too much; drinking soda or alcohol, prolonged laughter, GERD.

Home remedies: swallowing granulated sugar, gargling, drinking from the far side of a glass, holding one's breath, keeping knees in line with the chest and leaning forward, distracting attention.

Medical remedies: Only for intractable cases. Gastric dilatation; Medication like haloperidol, chlorpromazine, baclofen; Phrenic nerve block surgery in difficult cases.

The writers are consultant ENT surgeons based in Chennai.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012