Let's see if we can figure out what's causing your hiccups.
Select additional symptoms and we'll narrow your results.

What causes hiccups? 13 possible conditions

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups are repetitive, uncontrollable contractions of the diaphragm muscle. Your diaphragm is the muscle just below your lungs. It marks the boundary between your chest and abdomen. The diaphragm regulates breathing. When your diaphragm contracts, your lungs take in oxygen. When your diaphragm relaxes, your lungs release carbon dioxide.

The diaphragm contracting out of rhythm causes hiccups. Each spasm of the diaphragm makes the larynx and vocal cords close suddenly. This results in a sudden rush of air into the lungs. Your body reacts with a gasp or chirp, creating the sound characteristic of hiccups.

Singultus is the medical term for hiccups.

Onset of Hiccups

There is no way to anticipate hiccups. With each spasm, there usually is a slight tightening of the chest or throat prior to your making the distinctive hiccup sound.

Most cases of hiccups start and end abruptly, for no discernable reason. Episodes generally last only a few minutes. Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are considered persistent. Hiccups that last longer than two months are considered intractable, or difficult to manage.

Causes of Hiccups

Numerous causes of hiccups have been identified. However, there is no definitive list of triggers. Hiccups often come and go for no apparent reason.

Possible common causes of short-term hiccups include:

  • overeating
  • eating spicy food
  • consuming alcohol
  • drinking carbonated beverages, such as sodas
  • consuming very hot or very cold foods
  • a sudden change in air temperature
  • swallowing air while chewing gum
  • excitement or emotional stress
  • aerophagia (swallowing too much air)

Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours are categorized by the type of irritant that caused the episode.

The majority of persistent hiccups are caused by injury or irritation to either the vagus or phrenic nerve. The vagus and phrenic nerves control the movement of your diaphragm. These nerves may be affected by:

  • irritation of your eardrum, which may be caused by a foreign object
  • throat irritation or soreness
  • goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland)
  • gastroesophageal reflux (stomach acid backing up into the esophagus, the tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach)
  • an esophageal tumor or cyst

Other causes of hiccups may involve the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. If the CNS is damaged, your body may lose the ability to control hiccups. CNS damage that may lead to persistent hiccups includes:

  • stroke
  • multiple sclerosis (a chronic, degenerative nerve disease)
  • tumors
  • meningitis and encephalitis (infections that can cause swelling in the brain)
  • head trauma or brain injury
  • hydrocephalus (accumulation of fluid on the brain)
  • neurosyphilis and other brain infections

Hiccups that last for longer periods also can be caused by:

  • overuse of alcohol
  • tobacco use
  • an anesthesia reaction after surgery
  • certain classes of drugs, including barbiturates, steroids, and tranquilizers
  • diabetes
  • an electrolyte imbalance
  • kidney failure
  • arteriovenous malformation (a condition in which arteries and veins are tangled in the brain)
  • cancer and chemotherapy treatments
  • Parkinson’s disease (a degenerative brain disease)

Sometimes, a medical procedure can accidentally cause you to develop long-term hiccups. They can be caused by procedures used to treat or diagnose other conditions, including:

  • use of catheters to access the heart muscle
  • placement of an esophageal stent to prop open the esophagus
  • bronchoscopy (when an instrument is used to look inside your lungs)
  • tracheostomy (creation of a surgical opening in the neck to allow breathing around an airway obstruction)

Risk Factors for Hiccups

Hiccups can occur at any age. They can even occur while a fetus is still in the mother’s womb. However, there are several factors that can increase your likelihood of developing hiccups.

You may be more susceptible if you:

  • are male
  • experience intense mental or emotional responses, ranging from anxiety to excitement
  • have received general anesthesia (you were put to sleep during surgery)
  • had surgery, especially abdominal surgery

Treating Hiccups

Most hiccups are not an emergency. However a prolonged episode can be uncomfortable and disruptive to daily life. Contact your physician if you have hiccups that last longer than two days. Your doctor can determine the severity of your hiccups in relation to your overall health and other conditions.

There are numerous options for treating hiccups. Typically, a short-term case of hiccups will take care of itself. However, the discomfort may make waiting out hiccups unbearable if they last longer than a few minutes.

Although none of these have been proven to stop hiccups, the following potential treatments for hiccups can be tried at home:

  • Breathe into a paper bag.
  • Eat a teaspoon of granulated sugar.
  • Hold your breath.
  • Drink a glass of cold water.
  • Pull on your tongue.
  • Lift your uvula with a spoon. Your uvula is the fleshy piece of tissue that is suspended above the back of your throat.
  • Attempt to purposefully gasp or belch.
  • Bring your knees to your chest and maintain this position.
  • Try the Valsalva maneuver by shutting your mouth and nose and exhaling forcibly.
  • Relax and breathe in a slow, controlled manner.

If you still have hiccups after 48 hours, talk to your doctor. Your physician may attempt gastric lavage (stomach pumping) or carotid sinus massage (rubbing the main carotid artery in the neck).

If the cause of your hiccups is unclear, your physician may recommend tests. These can help detect any underlying disease or condition. The following tests may be useful in determining the cause of persistent or intractable hiccups:

  • blood tests to identify signs of infection, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • liver function tests
  • imaging of the diaphragm with a chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • echocardiogram to assess heart function
  • endoscopy, which utilizes a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end to investigate your esophagus, windpipe, stomach, and intestine
  • bronchoscopy, which utilizes a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end to examine your lungs and airways

Treating any underlying causes of your hiccups will usually make them go away. If persistent hiccups have no obvious cause, there are several anti-hiccup medications that may be prescribed. The more commonly used drugs include:

  • chlorpromazine and haloperidol (antipsychotic medications)
  • benzodiazepines (a class of tranquilizers)
  • Benadryl (an antihistamine)
  • metoclopramide (a nausea drug)
  • baclofen (a muscle relaxant)
  • nifedipine (a blood pressure medication)
  • seizure medications, such as gabapentin

There are also more invasive options, which can be used to end extreme cases of hiccups. They include:

  • nasogastric intubation (insertion of a tube through your nose into your stomach)
  • an anesthetic injection to block your phrenic nerve
  • surgical implantation of a diaphragmatic pacemaker, a battery-powered device that stimulates your diaphragm and regulates breathing
  • Consequences of Untreated Hiccups

A long-term episode of hiccups can be uncomfortable and even harmful to your health. If left untreated, prolonged hiccups can disturb your sleeping and eating patterns, leading to:

  • sleeplessness
  • exhaustion
  • malnutrition
  • weight loss
  • dehydration

How to Prevent Hiccups

There is no proven method for preventing hiccups. However, if you experience hiccups frequently, you can try to reduce your exposure to known triggers.

The following may help reduce your susceptibility to hiccups:

  • Don’t overeat.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages.
  • Protect yourself from sudden temperature changes.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Remain calm, and try to avoid intense emotional or physical reactions.

Article Sources:

Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.



Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) happens to almost everyone from time to time. Eating habits or a chronic digestive problem can trigger indigestion.

Read more »



Hyperventilation happens when you suddenly start breathing very quickly. Exhaling more than you inhale causes low carbon dioxide levels.

Read more »



Pleurisy occurs when the tissues that line your lungs and chest wall become inflamed or infected, causing extreme pain. It is often treated with antibiotics.

Read more »


Fluid in the Chest (Pleural Effusion)

Pleural effusion, also called "water on the lung," is an excessive buildup of fluid between your lungs and chest cavity. There's always a small amount of liquid inside your lungs.

Read more »



Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Read more »


Diabetic Nephropathy

Diabetic nephropathy is a type of progressive kidney disease that occurs in people who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The University of Washington estimates that 20 to 40 percent of people with diabetes will ge...

Read more »


Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas, which causes pain and swelling in the upper left side of the abdomen, nausea, and burping.

Read more »


Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the progressive and irreversible destruction of the kidneys. The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure and diabetes.

Read more »


Kidney Failure

Your body becomes overloaded with toxins if your kidneys can't do their regular job. This can lead to kidney failure and even be life-threatening.

Read more »


End-Stage Kidney Disease

In end-stage kidney disease, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), the kidneys are functioning below 10 percent of their normal function.

Read more »


Adult Brain Tumor

A brain tumor is the growth of abnormal cells in your brain. Whether the growth is cancerous or not, any brain tumor is serious. Symptoms can include both cognitive and physical control problems.

Read more »



Glomerulonephritis is a serious illness that can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. The condition is sometimes called nephritis.

Read more »


Medullary Cystic Disease

Medullary cystic kidney disease is a rare condition that causes cysts to form on kidneys. Kidney failure may result, symptoms of which can include changes in skin color and itchy skin.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.