What Is Hiccups?

INTRODUCTION

Hiccups is a  very common problem worldwide. It is very distressing. As a result, millions of people worldwide ask, “what is hiccups?”

Why are hiccups distressing?

  • they are largely uncontrollable
  • they can be socially embarrassing
  • they are uncomfortable
  • they can be tiring if too frequent or prolonged
A distressed and weary man covering his mouth with his hand while suffering from hiccups
Hiccups can be distressing, uncomfortable and tiring. Don’t you feel for this gentleman?

 

This exploration of the subject will answer some of the most important questions about hiccups. Hopefully this will empower the Reader by providing understanding, reassurance where it is due, and a warning about serious signs.

This article is going to be divided into the following paragraphs:

  • Hiccough vs hiccup
  • Why do hiccups occur?
  • How to get rid of the hiccups
  • How to prevent hiccups
  • Are hiccups dangerous?

HICCOUGH vs HICCUP

These two words mean exactly the same thing. It’s just that hiccough is an old way of describing the condition. And it tends to still be used in British English, whereas hiccup is the word in use in United States English.

And please note, the two words are pronounced exactly the same.

There really is nothing wrong with using either word. But for the remainder of this article, we will use hiccup / hiccups.

Picture of a typewriter, a device from centuries ago. The term hiccoughs used to be in common use long ago; less so now
Hiccoughs is a term from centuries ago, just like the typewriter. It is still in use, and means the same thing as hiccups. So there is nothing wrong with spelling the word that way.

WHAT CAUSES HICCUPS?

Why do people get hiccups? Exactly what causes hiccups? Let us answer the questions in a detailed manner, beginning with a presentation of the relevant anatomy and physiology.

Between the chest and the abdomen, is a dome-shaped muscular organ. This organ is called the diaphragm. The diaphragm is dome-shaped in its relaxed state, and flat when contracted. It is one of the breathing apparatus.

When the diaphragm contracts and flattens, the lungs in the chest expand. Air is drawn into the lungs – this is breathing in or inspiration. Breathing out or expiration involves relaxation of the diaphragm.

We can consciously control our breathing if we wish. But the process is normally under autonomic or sub-conscious control. We don’t need to remember to breathe – this is done by the autonomic part of our central nervous system!

Okay, so above the diaphragm, in the chest, lie the lungs. What lies below the diaphragm?

An Anatomy model of the upper abdomen, chest, neck and head. It clearly shows the position of the diaphragm, which is where hiccups occur
The diaphragm can clearly be seen in this Anatomical model. It is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. The abnormal event that is hiccups originates here.

 

Below the diaphragm, in the abdomen, lies the liver on the right hand side, right across the midline. On the left side of the abdomen, is the upper part of the stomach. Both kidneys also lie just below the diaphragm on either side, but quite at the back.

The diaphragm, just like many of the muscles in the body, can undergo involuntary spasms, also called myoclonic jerks. When this happens, it forces a sudden breathing in of air.

The sudden forceful inspiration causes the valve at the beginning of the airways, called the glottis, to swing into action and close the windpipe. This produces a drawn-in, sharp sound. This is what hiccups are.

A mouth of a bearded man covered with the hand due to the occurrence of hiccups.
The sudden inspiration caused by diaphragmatic spasm forces the glottis to produce a sound. This often embarrasses sufferers.

 

The diaphragmatic spasms are a sign of indigestion. The precipitant of the involuntary spasms can be:

  • eating or drinking too quickly
  • consuming too hot meals
  • consumption of alcohol or “soda” drinks
  • certain foods (differ for different people)
  • smoking

HOW TO GET RID OF THE HICCUPS

This is probably what you are most interested in, dear Reader! You need to know how to get rid of the hiccups quickly for that matter. This unfortunately, is not easy and straightforward.

There are no Scientifically validated ways to get rid of hiccups at home or by yourself. But there are methods that have been used with varying success, over the decades. Many employ stimulation of the Tenth Cranial Nerve (vagus), part of the autonomic mechanism mentioned above.

A woman holding a transparent plastic bag in front of her face. Repeatedly breathing air into a bag like this, may stop hiccoughs.
Re-breathing air is one method that sometimes works in stopping hiccups. A bag like this one can be used to cover the mouth and nose, and repeatedly breathe into it. This may trigger the vagus nerve and abort the hiccups.

 

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HOW TO PREVENT HICCUPS

We have created some understanding of the underlying mechanism by which hiccups occur. It should now be possible to work out some of the things we can do, and those that we can avoid, in order to prevent hiccups. Different people usually have different precipitants, and close personal observation is helpful.

ARE HICCUPS DANGEROUS?

In the majority of cases, hiccups are harmless. They are usually not a sign of some serious underlying condition. Some of the very frequent precipitants have been listed above.

CONCLUSION

That’s it for now! Hopefully esteemed reader you have gained some valuable knowledge about hiccoughs / hiccups. And this will help you to better understand what is happening when it does happen.

Hopefully you now know how to handle the situation mentally, emotionally and physically.

A happy, celebratory man who has overcome hiccups or at least being distressed by them.

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