Hiccups can be annoying but they’re usually short-lived. However, some people may experience recurrent episodes of persistent hiccups. Persistent hiccups, also known as chronic hiccups, are defined as episodes that last longer than 48 hours.

At its most basic, a hiccup is a reflex. It happens when a sudden contraction of your diaphragm causes the muscles of your chest and abdomen to shake. Then, the glottis, or the part of your throat where your vocal cords are located, closes. This creates the noise of air expelled from your lungs, or the “hic” sound that feels involuntary with hiccups.

Why we get hiccups

You can hiccup as a result of:

  • an overindulgent meal
  • a sudden change in temperature
  • excitement or stress
  • drinking carbonated drinks or alcohol
  • chewing gum

Persistent or recurrent hiccups typically have an underlying condition. This may include:

Central nervous system disorders

Vagus and phrenic nerve irritation

Gastrointestinal disorders

Thoracic disorders

Cardiovascular disorders

  • heart attack
  • pericarditis

Other conditions that may be a factor in some cases of chronic hiccups include:

Medications that can trigger long-term hiccups include:

  • steroids
  • tranquilizers
  • barbiturates
  • anesthesia

How to make hiccups go away

If your hiccups don’t go away within a few minutes, here are some home remedies that might be helpful:

  • Gargle with ice water for one minute. The cold water will help soothe any irritation in your diaphragm.
  • Suck on a small piece of ice.
  • Breathe slowly into a paper bag. This increases the carbon dioxide in your lungs, which causes your diaphragm to relax.
  • Hold your breath. This also helps to increase carbon dioxide levels.

Since there’s no definitive way to stop hiccups, there’s no guarantee these remedies will work, but they can be effective for some people.

If you find yourself getting hiccups often, eating smaller meals and minimizing carbonated beverages and gassy foods might be helpful.

If they continue, talk with your healthcare provider. Make sure to mention when your hiccups seem to occur and how long they last. Alternative or complementary treatments such as relaxation training, hypnosis, or acupuncture might be options to explore.

The bottom line

While hiccups can be uncomfortable and irritating, they typically aren’t anything to worry about. In some cases, however, if they’re recurrent or persistent, there might be an underlying condition that needs medical attention.

If your hiccups don’t go away within 48 hours, are severe enough that they interfere with daily activities, or seem to be recurring more frequently, talk with your doctor.