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Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They are repeated and cannot be controlled. This results in an odd, sometimes uneasy gasping sensation and sound with each hiccup.


Hiccups are common. There are many possible causes, including:

  • Drinking a lot of fluids, including alcohol
  • Gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Dehydration
  • Stress or intense emotions
  • Some medications
  • Certain conditions that irritate the brain or nerves in the neck (such as goiter, meningitis, multiple sclerosis)

Phrenic Nerve and Diaphragm

Phrenic Nerve
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Everyone experiences hiccups at one time or another.


Symptoms include:

  • Spasms of the diaphragm muscle that repeat and cannot be controlled
  • Uneasy gasping and sound with each hiccup

Call your doctor if your hiccups:

  • Last for more than two days
  • Are very painful or get in the way of your daily life (such as eating or sleeping)


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need tests if the doctor is concerned that the hiccups may be caused by a condition. These tests might include:


Many treatments for hiccups involve stimulating nerves that may be involved. This can be done by:

  • Eating hard to swallow items such as granulated sugar or molasses
  • Sucking on ice cubes
  • Gagging with purpose
  • Valsalva maneuver—holding your breath and bearing down, as you might when having a bowel movement
  • Breathing into a bag
  • Gasping with purpose

Some drugs may help hiccups, including:

  • Chlorpromazine —an antipsychotic medicine approved to treat hard to control hiccups
  • Seizure medicines
  • Medicines used to treat nausea
  • Muscle relaxing medicines


It is not known why some people get hiccups. There are no sure ways to prevent developing them. However, if you are prone to hiccups, you might want to avoid:

  • Overfilling your stomach
  • Drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol
  • Becoming overexcited (including stress, intense emotion, heavy laughing, or crying)

American Academy of Family Physicians


National Library of Medicine



Canadian Institutes of Health Research



Hiccups. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated January 25, 2012. Accessed December 3, 2012.

What causes hiccups? KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/hiccup.html. Updated October 2011. Accessed December 3, 2012.

Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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