Hiccups -- Causes and Top 10 Natural
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March 19, 2011, last updated March 29, 2015

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Hic – here they come again! Hiccups can drive us crazy but are
they just something we’ve got to put up with? Short bursts of
the hiccups are very common. Just about all of us will get an
attack of hiccups at some point in our lives. Men and women
are equally affected and even babies hiccup.

Hiccups, technically called "singulata", can take over your life,
if only for a few minutes. But just what is the point of
hiccups? What’s the best way to get rid of hiccups quickly?
Are there any natural remedies for hiccups? And if you can’t
stop hiccupping, should you worry?

What Are the Causes of Hiccups?

Hiccups happen when your diaphragm abruptly contracts,
which is followed immediately by the glottis (top of the
windpipe) closing and making the “hic” sound. Some experts
believe that sudden excitement or stress cause hiccups.

You may also experience a hiccuping attack when you eat too
quickly, drink fizzy drinks or consume spicy food. Hiccups are
sometimes caused by swallowing too much air or by a sudden
change in temperature.

Scientists have also discovered that some medications can
cause hiccups. Corticosteroids, benzodiazepines and
dexamethasones can cause hiccups, according to a 2013 study
from Georgia Regents University College of Dental Medicine.

Whatever causes it, a hiccup is a reflex action – you can’t
control it.

Why Do We Hiccup?

Hiccups are different to other involuntary reflexes like
coughing and sneezing because they don’t appear to serve
any useful purpose. Some experts believe that when babies
hiccup in the womb it is to stop amniotic fluid entering the
lungs. Our body still uses this learned movement. But why
would a movement to keep fluid out involve an inward breath?
Do hiccups help prepare the unborn baby’s respiratory
muscles for breathing?

A 2003 study from Pitie-Saltpetriere Hospital in Paris puts
forward an interesting theory – hiccupping is a throwback to
the time when our un-evolved ancestors lived in the sea and
had gills to help them breathe. These fish and amphibians
needed to use gill movements and a contraction of the
“breathing in” muscles to stop water getting into the lungs.
But why does this hiccupping movement persist after millions
of years of living on land? Scientists think mammals continue
to use the gill movement when suckling, to stop milk getting
into the lungs. Whether this is a plausible theory or not, it is
very difficult to prove.

Are Hiccups Dangerous?

Hiccups are harmless - so say the experts. But are they always
harmless? Should you worry if you can’t stop hiccupping for
10 minutes, an hour, or a day? The Guinness World Record for
the longest attack of hiccups is 68 years – American Charles
Osborne started hiccupping in 1922 and eventually stopped in

Don’t panic if you start hiccupping – Osborne’s fate is highly
unlikely to befall you. According to the UK’s National Health
Service, persistent or protracted hiccups lasting more than 48
hours, and intractable hiccups lasting more than a month, are
very rare. But if your hiccups are bothering you for more than
two days you need to get checked by a doctor to rule out any
underlying medical condition.

What Medical Conditions Cause Persistent Hiccups?

A cause is found in 80 percent of cases of persistent hiccups,
according to the UK’s National Health Service.

But there are over
100 conditions reported to cause hiccups,
making it difficult to pin down. These conditions range from
acid reflux to, more rarely, conditions such as heart
disease and stroke. In these cases, you normally present other
symptoms as well as the hiccups. Hiccups, in some rare cases
can also be traced to gastroesophageal lesions. According to a
1995 study published in the American Journal of Radiology, in
cases of "intractable hiccups", your doctor should conduct and
MRI to try to find a cause.

Certain medications such as steroids, painkillers containing
opiates, and tranquilizers can cause hiccups, as can alterations
in your blood sugar and blood chemistry. If you have a
problem with your gut, neck, chest or abdomen you may also
hiccup. Sometimes people with advanced
cancer get hiccups.

It’s highly unlikely that a short bout of hiccups is caused by
anything serious. But even a short hiccuping session can be
annoying and uncomfortable. Persistent hiccups can be
exhausting and emotionally draining. What works to get rid of
hiccups? Are the folk remedies for stopping hiccups any use at
all? We’ve looked at the available scientific evidence to see
how hiccupping can be halted.

Top 10 Natural Remedies for Hiccups

Stimulating the Vagus Nerve Is the Key to Calming Hiccups

The vagus nerve snakes from the brain to the stomach and,
for many experts, controlling this cranial nerve’s impulses is
crucial to stopping hiccups. The vagus nerve heads towards
the diaphragm and if it starts sending sporadic signals you
could get the hiccups. Calm the spasm in the nerve in a variety
of ways. Try massaging the back part of the roof of your
mouth with a Q-tip (Peleg, Shvartzman and Golsmith write
about this method in 1996’s “A treatment for hiccups”).

Or, just pull on your tongue to stimulate the vagus nerve. A
less natural but no less effective way of stimulating the vagus
nerve is with a vagus nerve stimulator implant. Researchers
from LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans described in
2004 how they treated intractable hiccups by delivering
electrical impulses to the vagus nerve in the neck through the
vagus nerve stimulator. In addition, a 1993 study from Penn
State University School of Medicine, Pennsylvania describes
treating intractable hiccups by the microvascular
decompression of the vagus nerve.

Water and its Power as a Hiccup Remedy

This is often the first thing you try if you get the hiccups. But
does drinking water cure hiccups? Sipping ice-cold water is
regularly cited as a hiccup cure and many people swear by its

Drinking cold water or gargling cold water increases the
carbon dioxide level in your blood, takes your mind off your
hiccups and stimulates the vagus nerve – these are reasons
why water stops hiccups in many cases. The advanced method
is to sip from the far side of a glass, but opinion is divided as
to whether it brings any extra benefits apart from showcasing
your dexterity.

Sugar Cures Hiccups

Sugar may be tough on your teeth but the sweet treat could
help calm hiccups. A 1971 study by Engleman, Lankton and
Lankton published in the New England Journal of Medicine
found that swallowing one spoonful of dry sugar immediately
caused persistent hiccups to stop in 19 out of 20 hiccuppers.
You need to swallow it dry, and you can repeat as needed.

Peanut Butter as a Sweet Hiccup Cure

In a similar way, a little peanut butter also helps cure hiccups.
The texture of the peanut butter – the stickiness, and also the
sweetness – helps change the rhythm of your breathing just
like the grainy sugar does. There’s no scientific research
specifically testing peanut butter’s power as a hiccup
suppressor but many people are convinced. Try this sweet
snack next time you’re struck with a hiccupping fit and see if it

Lemon and Vinegar Help Stop Hiccups

Now to the other end of the taste spectrum in the quest to
cure hiccups – lemons and vinegar. Biting on a lemon or
tasting vinegar is said to stop hiccups because the bitter taste
interrupts the impulses of the vagus nerve. A 2007 study from
Ibaraki Prefectural University of Health Science, Inashiki,
Japan showed nose drops of vinegar eased the chronic
hiccups of a three-year-old girl. Try chewing a slice of lemon,
sipping from a teaspoon of vinegar or drink some freshly-
squeezed lemon juice.  

Does Acupuncture Cure Hiccups?

Acupuncture holds promise as a cure for persistent and
irritating hiccups. A 2010 study from the National Institutes of
Health discovered that acupuncture stopped persistent hiccups
completely in 13 out of 16 patients with cancer. Three patients
experienced a decrease in the severity of their hiccups. And a
1998 study by researchers at The Leopold Franzens University
of Innsbruck, Austria found Korean hand acupuncture – a
distinctive form of acupuncture and acupressure on the hands
– cured the hiccups of a 70-year-old man with heart disease
who had suffered for three months. Treatments took place
every day for five days.

Can Sex Stop Hiccups?

This may seem like the dubious advice of an over-amorous
lover, but could sex cure your hiccups?

Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-
Sheva, Israel debated this in a 2000 report after learning of
the case of a healthy 40-year-old man who developed
intractable hiccups and found no relief from any natural

On the fourth day of hiccups he had sexual intercourse with
his wife: “The hiccups continued throughout the sexual
interlude up until the moment of ejaculation when they
suddenly and completely ceased and did not recur over a
follow-up period of 12 months.”

Unfortunately for the Lotharios out there, the researchers
found no documented evidence over a time frame of 23 years
that sex terminates hiccups and believe it may have been a

Alternative Physical Movements to Get Rid of Hiccups  

If sex isn’t a proven hiccup-relieving method, attempt some
other movements instead. Try a technique called the valsalva
maneuver to get rid of your hiccups for good (or at least until
the next time.) In this movement you try to push your breath
out while keeping your throat and voice box closed. Draw a
deep breath in. Hold the air inside you while pushing with
your muscles as if you were forcing the air out. The movement
is like straining on the toilet or pushing during childbirth.
Alternatively, sit down and pull your knees to your chest or
lean forward over your knees to compress the chest.

Breathing Techniques To Help Halt Hiccups

To stop your hiccups in their tracks, increase the level of
carbon dioxide in your body. You can do this by holding your
breath (for a short time – don’t go overboard), deliberately
breathing quickly or breathing into a paper bag. SR Howard at
St Thomas's Hospital, London, author of “Persistent Hiccups”
published in 1992’s British Medical Journal, confirmed this

Rectal Massage Terminates Hiccups

This case study sounds a little strange but the unorthodox
cure, reported by researchers at the Bnai Zion Medical Center,
Haifa, Israel in 1990, apparently worked. A 60-year-old-man
suffering from pancreatitis and consequent intractable hiccups
was cured of the hiccups using digital rectal massage. After
the administration of the therapy, the man remained hiccup-
free for five days until his discharge from hospital. Again, the
theory behind this boils down to the vagus nerve – this is
simply an unusual way to stimulate that nerve.

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