Chronic Hiccups

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on May 11, 2017Written by Diana K. Wells

What are chronic hiccups?

Hiccups happen when your diaphragm contracts involuntarily, which is also known as a spasm. The diaphragm is a muscle that helps you breathe. It is located between your chest and your abdomen. After the involuntary contraction, your vocal cords will rapidly shut. This is what causes the sound that comes with the hiccups.

Hiccups usually last a few minutes or hours and are not a medical concern. However, if your hiccups last longer than two days, they are considered chronic or persistent.

Chronic hiccups can last for years in some people and are usually a sign of a medical issue. They can also cause health issues themselves. You may experience exhaustion when they keep you awake most nights. Chronic hiccups can also lead to severe weight loss because they can affect your appetite or desire to eat.

Chronic hiccups are very rare, but they tend to happen more often in men than in women. Other people who may have a higher risk of getting chronic hiccups include those who:

  • have recently undergone general anesthesia
  • experience anxiety or other mental health issues
  • have had surgery in the area of the abdomen
  • have illnesses of the bowel, stomach, or diaphragm
  • are pregnant
  • have cancer
  • drink alcohol excessively

Treating chronic hiccups

Treating chronic or persistent hiccups will usually require more than just simply drinking a glass of water. Since chronic hiccups cause health issues and can also be a sign of a larger health concern, the majority of treatments require the help of a medical professional. You usually can’t treat the issue yourself or resolve the problem at home. Treatments depend on the underlying cause and may include:

  • treating the health condition that is causing the hiccups
  • taking medications prescribed by a doctor, such as baclofen, chlorpromazine, or metoclopramide (Reglan)
  • having surgery
  • electrically stimulating the vagus nerve through an implanted device
  • injecting the phrenic nerve with anesthetic
  • acupuncture

Causes of chronic hiccups

There are many things believed to cause hiccups, but the cause of chronic hiccups is not always known. The cause may also take an extended period of time to discover. The following are just some of the possible causes:

  • recent surgery
  • general anesthesia
  • diseases of the intestines, kidneys, or liver
  • tumors
  • brain lesions
  • brain stem seizures
  • pneumonia
  • irritation of the nerves that control breathing

Related conditions

Conditions that are related to chronic hiccups include any medical or health issue that affects the autonomous nervous system. This is the system which controls your body’s unconscious actions, like breathing.

Outlook

While one-time or occasional hiccups are common and resolve quickly, chronic hiccups are very rare and more difficult to treat. It is important that you see a medical professional if you have hiccups that last more than two days, as they could be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Even if the cause is not found, chronic hiccups alone can diminish your quality of life as well as your health if they are not treated.

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