Hiccups happen when your diaphragm contracts involuntarily. Your diaphragm is the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen. It’s also important for breathing.
When the diaphragm contracts due to hiccups, air suddenly rushes into your lungs, and your larynx, or voice box, closes. This causes that characteristic “hic” sound.
Hiccups typically last for only a short amount of time. However, in some cases they may signal a potentially serious underlying health condition.
Despite this, it’s very unlikely that you will die due to hiccups. Keep reading to learn more.
There’s limited evidence that anyone has died as a direct result of the hiccups.
However, long lasting hiccups can have a negative impact on your overall health. Having hiccups for a long time can disrupt things like:
- eating and drinking
Because of this, if you have long lasting hiccups, you may also experience things like:
If these symptoms persist for too long, they can potentially lead to death.
However, rather than being a cause of death, long lasting hiccups are often a symptom of an underlying medical condition that requires attention.
Long lasting hiccups are actually divided into two different categories. When hiccups last longer than 2 days, they’re referred to as “persistent.” When they last longer than a month, they’re called “intractable.”
Persistent or intractable hiccups are often caused by health conditions that affect nerve signaling to the diaphragm, causing it to contract frequently. This could happen due to things like damage to the nerves or changes in nerve signaling.
There are many types of conditions associated with persistent or intractable hiccups. Some of them are potentially serious and can be fatal if left untreated. They can include:
- conditions affecting the brain, such as stroke, brain tumors, or traumatic brain injury
- other conditions of the nervous system, like meningitis, seizures, or multiple sclerosis
- digestive conditions, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernia, or peptic ulcers
- esophageal conditions, like esophagitis or esophageal cancer
- cardiovascular conditions, including pericarditis, heart attack, and aortic aneurysm
- lung conditions, such as pneumonia, lung cancer, or pulmonary embolism
- liver conditions, such as liver cancer, hepatitis, or liver abscess
- kidney problems, like uremia, kidney failure, or kidney cancer
- issues with the pancreas, like pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer
- infections, such as tuberculosis, herpes simplex, or herpes zoster
- other conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or electrolyte imbalance
Additionally, some medications are associated with long lasting hiccups. Examples of such medications are:
Hiccups can occur as a person nears death. They’re often caused by the effects of an underlying health condition or by specific medications.
Many of the medications that people take during serious illness or end-of-life care can cause hiccups as a side effect. For example, hiccups
Hiccups are also not uncommon in people receiving palliative care. It’s estimated that hiccups occur in 2 to 27 percent of people receiving this kind of care.
Palliative care is a specific type of care that focuses on easing pain and reducing other symptoms in people with serious illnesses. It’s also an important part of hospice care, a type of care that’s given to those who are terminally ill.
If you get a bout of the hiccups, don’t stress. Hiccups usually last only a short amount of time, often disappearing on their own after a few minutes.
They can also have benign causes that include things like:
- eating too much food or eating too quickly
- consuming too much alcohol or spicy foods
- drinking a lot of carbonated beverages
- experiencing a sudden change in temperature, such as by getting into a cold shower or eating food that’s very hot or cold
If you have the hiccups, you can try the following ways to get them to stop:
- Hold your breath for a short amount of time.
- Take small sips of cold water.
- Gargle with water.
- Drink water from the far side of the glass.
- Breathe into a paper bag.
- Bite into a lemon.
- Swallow a small amount of granulated sugar.
- Bring your knees up to your chest and lean forward.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have hiccups that:
- last longer than 2 days
- interfere with your daily activities, such as eating and sleeping
Long lasting hiccups may be caused by an underlying health condition. Your doctor can perform various tests to help make a diagnosis. Treating the underlying condition will often ease your hiccups.
However, persistent or intractable hiccups can also be treated with various medications, such as:
- chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
- metoclopramide (Reglan)
- gabapentin (Neurontin)
Most of the time, hiccups only last a few minutes. However, in some cases they can last longer — for days or months.
When hiccups last a long time, they can begin to affect your day-to-day life. You may experience problems like fatigue, malnutrition, and depression.
While hiccups themselves are unlikely to be fatal, long lasting hiccups could be your body’s way of telling you about an underlying health condition that needs treatment. There are many conditions that can cause persistent or intractable hiccups.
See your doctor if you have hiccups that last longer than 2 days. They can work with you to help find out the cause.
Meanwhile, if you’re having an acute bout of the hiccups, don’t stress too much — they should resolve on their own shortly.