Condition Basics

What are hiccups?

Hiccups occur when a spasm contracts the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. This spasm causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closing of the vocal cords. This is what makes the "hiccup" sound.

There are three types of hiccups:

  • Common hiccups. These usually go away on their own within a few minutes to a few hours.
  • Persistent hiccups. These last longer than 48 hours.
  • Intractable hiccups. These last longer than a month.

Hiccups that last longer than 48 hours can be a sign of a more serious health problem and should be checked by a doctor.

What causes them?

Many things can cause short bouts of hiccups that go away on their own (common hiccups). These can include:

  • Overstretching the stomach. This can happen when you:
    • Eat too much.
    • Swallow air while doing things like eating, chewing gum, or smoking.
    • Drink carbonated drinks.
  • Having a sudden change in stomach temperature, such as drinking a hot beverage and then a cold beverage.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Emotional stress or excitement.

Hiccups that last more than 48 hours (persistent hiccups and intractable hiccups) can be caused by:

  • Central nervous system problems. These can be caused by things such as cancer, infections, stroke, or injury.
  • Metabolic problems, such as decreased kidney function or hyperventilation.
  • Irritated nerves in the head, neck, and chest.

How are hiccups treated?

Most bouts of hiccups go away on their own within a few minutes to a few hours and do not need any treatment.

Many home remedies are used to treat hiccups. Some of these remedies include:

  • Holding your breath and counting slowly to 10.
  • Quickly drinking a glass of cold water.
  • Eating a teaspoon of sugar.

The treatment for persistent or intractable hiccups depends on the underlying cause of the hiccups and may range from medicine to acupuncture or hypnosis. Sometimes several treatments may be tried before persistent or intractable hiccups are controlled. If you have hiccups that last a few days or longer, your doctor may do some tests to rule out a more serious problem.

Related Information


Current as of: August 6, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.