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What causes hiccups?

Most of the time, doctors never find the cause of hiccups. When a cause is found it is almost always something that irritates or presses on the nerves leading to the heart, lungs or diaphragm, such as a tumor, stomach ulcer, or irregular heart beats.

Your windpipe, which carries air to your lungs, is located just in front of your esophagus, which carries food to your stomach. You certainly don't want food to pass down your windpipe, so it is covered with a trap door called the glottis. The glottis closes when you swallow and prevents food and drink from going into your lungs. The diaphragm is the huge muscle that is situated underneath your lungs. It moves down to pull the lungs down to fill your lungs with air. You get hiccups when the diaphragm suddenly contracts downward to pull the lungs downward and bring air into the lungs, but, before the air can get into your lungs, the glottis, the trap door over the windpipe, suddenly closes, and prevents air from entering the windpipe. Hiccups have no useful function after you are born, but when you were in your mother's womb, your face was under water and you closed your glottis when your diaphragm moved down to prevent water from getting into your lungs.

Everyone has a favorite hiccup remedy: touching a spoon against the uvula repeatedly while you try to breathe in, breathing into a bag, drinking water from the back side of a glass, massaging your neck, pulling on your tongue, sudden fright, pressing on your eyeball, or holding your breath. If none of those work and hiccups persist, doctors may prescribe Baclofen, a drug to reduce nerve messages; Metoclopramide, a drug to make the stomach contract; Chlorpromazine, a drug to tranquilize nerves; or Haldol, a drug used to treat schizophrenia.

June 15, 2006

May 30th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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