We all get hiccups every now and then. Maybe you’ve tried to cure them by holding your breath or having someone scare you. But have you ever wondered what causes hiccups? And are hiccups ever dangerous? Read on for answers to these and other questions about hiccups.

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What Are Hiccups?

A hiccup is a spasm of your diaphragm. This spasm causes an intake of breath that’s suddenly stopped by the quick closing of your vocal cords. The shutting of the vocal cords causes the “hic” sound of a hiccup. “Hiccups are more prevalent in males and in tall people,” says Shane Eikenberry, MD, a primary care doctor at Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates–UPMC.

What Causes Hiccups?

Hiccups can occur when you have a very full stomach, which can be caused by:

  • Eating too much too quickly
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Swallowing too much air (as a result of eating or drinking too fast, chewing gum or sucking on candy, drinking a carbonated beverage, or smoking)
  • A sudden change in stomach temperature — caused by drinking a hot drink and then a cold drink, for example
  • Stress or excitement

Are Hiccups Ever Dangerous?

Hiccups are very rarely dangerous. But if hiccups last longer than 48 hours, they may be a sign of an underlying health issue, such as:

  • A central nervous system problem, like cancer, infections, stroke, or injury
  • A metabolic problem, such as decreased kidney function, or hyperventilation
  • Irritation of the nerves in the head, neck, and chest
  • Mental health problems

How to Treat Hiccups

Hiccups usually go away on their own within a few minutes. But if hiccups are bothering you, you can safely try quickly drinking a glass of cold water or swallowing a teaspoon of honey. Most hiccup home remedies work by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood.

Treatment of chronic hiccups depends on the underlying cause and ranges from medicine to acupuncture or hypnosis. If you experience chronic hiccups, see your primary care doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

To learn more about what may be causing your hiccups, visit UPMC Primary Care or call 1-855-676-8762 to schedule an appointment.

About Primary Care

The relationship with a patient and their primary care doctor can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. With dozens of UPMC Primary Care locations across our network of care, you can find a PCP close to you. Schedule an appointment today.