Hiccups are caused by spasms in your diaphragm, the large muscle just below your lungs. Some people have chronic hiccups that last for days, weeks, or years.
Hiccups happen when your diaphragm contracts involuntarily, which is also known as a spasm.
The diaphragm is a muscle that helps you breathe. It’s 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 hiccups.
For most people, hiccups usually last a few minutes and are not a medical concern. However, if your hiccups last longer than 2 days, they’re considered chronic. They’re also referred to as persistent if they last over 2 days, but end within 1 month.
If you have multiple recurring episodes of hiccups over prolonged periods of time, this is also considered chronic hiccups.
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 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 liver, bowel, stomach, or diaphragm
- are pregnant
- have cancer
- drink alcohol excessively
- have a nervous system disorder
Treating chronic or persistent hiccups will usually require more than just 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 underlying health condition that’s causing the hiccups
- taking medications prescribed by a doctor, such as baclofen, chlorpromazine, valproic acid, or metoclopramide
- having surgery, such as implanting a device that electrically stimulates the vagus nerve
- injecting the phrenic nerve with anesthetic
There are many things believed to cause hiccups, but the cause of chronic hiccups isn’t always known. The cause may also take an extended period of time to discover.
The following are just some of the possible causes:
- recent abdominal surgery
- general anesthesia
- diseases of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, kidneys, or liver
- cancer tumors
- brain or spinal cord lesions
- brainstem seizures
- irritation of the nerves that control breathing
Conditions that are related to chronic hiccups may include any medical or health issue that involves the autonomic nervous system. This is the system that controls your body’s unconscious actions, like breathing, heartbeat, and digestive tract functions.
While one-time or occasional hiccups are common and resolve quickly, chronic hiccups are very rare and more difficult to treat.
It’s important that you see a medical professional if you have hiccups that last more than 2 days or you’ve had multiple hiccup episodes that are occurring more frequently over time, as they could be a symptom of a serious medical condition.
Even if the cause is not found, chronic hiccups alone can affect your quality of life as well as your health if they’re not treated.
You can connect with a primary care doctor in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.