- You may keep getting hiccups if you eat too much too fast or are under a lot of stress.
- Drinking carbonated water, chewing gum, and smoking can all cause hiccups from swallowing air.
- Chronic hiccups that don't disappear after 48 hrs can be from a serious medical condition like diabetes.
Why do I keep getting hiccups?
Hiccups can be annoying, especially if you get them on a regular basis.
But in some cases, hiccups can last a lot longer — more than two days — and may be a sign of an underlying issue like acid reflux or damage to your central nervous system, which may require medical treatment.
There is no certain method that can stop hiccups. In fact, the longest known and recorded bout of hiccups lasted 68 years. However, some over-the-counter or prescription medications may help if your hiccups persist for more than two days.
Here are seven reasons why you might get the hiccups, what you can do to stop hiccupping, and when it's time to see a doctor about them.
What is a hiccup?
"Hiccups are caused by spasms of the muscles that control breathing," says Troy Madsen, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah.
Specifically, your diaphragm, the large muscle at the base of your lungs, and the muscles in your chest can spasm suddenly. This is "similar to a muscle spasm you might feel in your calf muscle," Madsen says.
When these muscles spasm, this leads you to breathe in rapidly and causes your throat to close off very briefly, leading to the "hic" sound of hiccups.
1. Eating too much or too fast
Eating too much or too quickly can cause your stomach to expand beyond its normal size.
As your stomach expands, it can press on or irritate your diaphragm, which sits at the top of your abdomen, Madsen says. This then leads to your diaphragm sharply spasming or contracting, triggering a hiccup.
If you have hiccups from overeating, you may need to wait until the food is digested until you feel better. But in the meantime, you can take a walk to help your stomach empty more quickly. Also, make sure not to lie down, as this can slow stomach emptying.
2. Swallowing air
Your stomach can also expand from swallowing air, which pushes on your diaphragm and triggers hiccups. This can happen in several different ways, including:
- Chewing gum: Even if you don't realize it, you may be swallowing air as you chew gum, especially if you open your mouth while chewing.
- Carbonated drinks: Swallowing the carbon dioxide bubbles in drinks like soda and seltzer can fill your stomach with gas and trigger burping or hiccups.
- Smoking: People who smoke constantly swallow air, which may cause hiccups.
- Eating too fast: Eating quickly increases the amount of air that you swallow.
If you've swallowed too much air, burping may help release some of it, but you should also stop chewing gum, drinking soda, or smoking until the hiccups subside.
3. Acid reflux
Acid reflux is a condition that happens when stomach acid flows up into your throat or esophagus. Many things can trigger acid reflux including:
- Eating spicy or fried food
- Consuming alcohol or coffee
- Eating late at night
Reflux can cause hiccups because "the esophagus passes next to the diaphragm, and the irritation in this area can lead to spasms of this large muscle," Madsen says.
To stop a bout of reflux-related hiccups, it may help to take over the counter antacid medications like Tums or Pepcid.
4. Drinking too much alcohol
There are two main reasons that drinking alcohol can cause hiccups:
- Alcohol is highly acidic and can irritate the lining of your stomach and esophagus, which can cause hiccups. It can also trigger acid reflux, which has a similar irritating effect, Chakraborty says.
- Certain types of alcohol are carbonated, like beer and mixed drinks. Just like when you drink soda, the carbon dioxide expands your stomach and leads to hiccups, Madsen says.
Cutting down your drinking or avoiding carbonated drinks may help you avoid bouts of hiccups.
There's not much you can do about a growing fetus but there are ways to manage heartburn-related hiccups during pregnancy like avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller more frequent meals, and neutralizing stomach acid with some milk or yogurt.
"It's unclear exactly how stress causes hiccups," Madsen says, but there are a couple of theories about how it happens.
- Accidentally swallowing air. "When we're stressed we often hyperventilate, and some of that air might make it into our stomach instead of into our lungs," Madsen says. When this happens, your stomach expands, leading to hiccups.
- Nervous system disruption. When you feel especially stressed or anxious, this can disturb the nerve pathways between your brain and your diaphragm, triggering hiccups.
7. Damage to your central nervous system
If your hiccups last an especially long time, this may be a sign of underlying damage or abnormality of your hiccup reflux, says Alison Kearney, MRCP, a palliative care doctor at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital in Australia.
Long-term hiccups are rare and fall into two main categories:
- Persistent hiccups, which last longer than 48 hours.
- Intractable hiccups, which last for longer than one month.
Long-term hiccups may be a sign that you have damage to your brain or central nervous system, Kearney says. This is because you have several nerves that transmit information between your brain and upper abdomen, including your diaphragm.
"This means that there are parts of the brain which, if damaged by tumor or stroke, can induce hiccups," Kearney says.
Your normal hiccup reflex can also be disrupted by nerve-damaging conditions like:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Multiple sclerosis
How to get rid of hiccups
There's no sure-fire way to get rid of hiccups and they generally resolve on their own. However, you can try various unproven home remedies such as drinking water quickly, holding your breath, or breathing into a paper bag.
"There are no large studies regarding the efficacy of home remedies, but they are generally harmless," says Hanan Tanuos, MD, FAAP, director of pediatric primary care at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
If your hiccups are a symptom of a serious condition, then curing the hiccups means treating whatever the underlying medical condition is, says Chakraborty.
If you have persistent or intractable hiccups, then it's time to turn to medications like:
- Metoclopramide: An over-the-counter medication for stomach and esophageal problems
- Chlorpromazine: a prescription drug approved for hiccups
When to see a doctor
It's best to see your health care provider for an evaluation if your hiccups last more than 48 hours straight, says Karen W. Lin, MD, professor at the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health in the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
According to Chakraborty, a variety of medical conditions may also cause long-term hiccups, which include:
- Nervous system disorders such as stroke, brain trauma, or brain tumor
- Digestive issues like hiatal hernia or intestinal ulcers
- Respiratory disorders such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or asthma
- Cardiovascular conditions like pericardial inflammation, aneurysm of the aorta, or myocardial ischemia
- Medications like narcotics, sedatives, steroids, and chemotherapy medicines
"Hiccups can be caused by a number of things but rarely are something that requires a trip to the ER or to your doctor," Madsen says.
In most cases, they're caused by an everyday issue like eating too quickly, feeling anxious, or swallowing air, and hiccups generally go away on their own in a matter of minutes to hours.
"If hiccups last more than 48 hours, though, it would be worth talking with your doctor who may consider further testing or treatment for your hiccups," says Madsen.