The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Can You Do About Chronic Hiccups?

Chronic hiccups lasting two days or longer deserve medical attention. They may signal a serious health problem that requires treatment.
Stop Hiccups – Red Sign Painted – Open Hand Raised, Isolated on White Background.

Most people think of hiccups as a minor annoyance. They normally last a few minutes and disappear as suddenly and mysteriously as they arrive. But some people experience chronic hiccups that last for days, weeks or even years. Such hiccups become a curse that ruins a person’s quality of life.

It’s hard to sleep, eat or interact with people when you have chronic hiccups. Patients become exhausted and often lose weight. As you can imagine, this is a serious medical condition that requires the expertise of a specialist.

What Are Hiccups?

“Normal” hiccups can be triggered by hot peppers, a large meal, soda pop, alcoholic beverages or anesthesia. Sometimes there is no apparent cause. They just show up out of nowhere.

The sound of a hiccup occurs when the diaphragm contracts. When this happens, the vocal cords close involuntarily, and we hear the classic sound of a hiccup.

There are dozens of home remedies for these minor hiccups. People often swear that they have a sure-fire cure.

One reader shared her father’s remedy.

“My father was a physician, and this was his remedy which always worked:

“Press a finger firmly into each ear; take a deep breath; hold it as long as you can even if you experience a hiccup while you are doing it. You may have to do it several times. (Be careful if you have long nails.)

“I recall him explaining that it had something to do with spasms in the diaphragm and forcing the CO2 out. I’m not sure I remember his explanation since I was about 14 years old when he taught me this remedy.”

Another woman says,

“All you need to stop hiccups is a big spoonful of dill pickle juice. I’ve used it for years myself and with my children, and it works every time.”

More Remedies for Hiccups:

Swallowing stuff is a classic approach. People insist that a teaspoon of dry sugar works like a charm. There is even a report in the medical literature supporting this approach (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 23, 1971).

What Is the Story on Chronic Hiccups?

What if all the home remedies fail and the hiccups persist? After two days, you should see a physician and get a proper diagnosis. Long-lasting hiccups can be triggered by something serious. Nerve damage, acid reflux, esophagitis, gastritis, infection, kidney disease, a minor stroke, MS, Parkinson’s disease or a tumor could all cause long-lasting hiccups.

That’s why diagnosis is essential to deal with the underlying cause. If no cause can be determined, though, the doctor should ask about medications. Some drugs can trigger hiccups. They include antibiotics, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and some anti-anxiety agents.

When all else fails, a specialist such as an anesthesiologist may prescribe medications to try to stop the hiccups. There is no perfect antidote, though. Drugs with some potential to help against chronic hiccups include the antiseizure drug gabapentin and the muscle relaxant baclofen that is prescribed to MS patients (Kohse et al, Anesthesia and Analgesia, Oct. 2017).

Acupuncture for Chronic Hiccups:

There have been a few reports that acupuncture can be helpful against chronic hiccups. But more research will need to be done before physicians accept this therapy.

It is past time to take chronic hiccups seriously. According to experts, this is an underestimated problem that requires better research and much more effective treatments.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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As a primary grade teacher, my students thought I could perform “magic” because I could cure their hiccups. I used a simple method given to me by a physical therapist. I would have them hold their head back as far as they could, then I would slowly and repeatedly stroke downward on their throat with my thumb and forefinger (one on each side) while having them swallow over and over again as I did this. I often had to tell them to “keep swallowing even if you have to just swallow air.” After doing this for a minute or two, the hiccups always went away–but only if the student kept swallowing. I’m not sure why it worked, but it never failed. I’ve used this method successfully with adults, too.

What works for me is “drinking out of the wrong side of a glass.” The effect is the same as Phyllis’s method above, because you need to lean way over the glass to get to the “wrong” side. If you just turn the glass around the far side becomes the “right” side near you and it doesn’t work.

I believe that the most common cause of chronic hiccups is a reaction to cortisone. In the 1960’s I had two shots of cortisone in my knee about six months apart. Both times I was stricken with violent hiccups for several days and nights. Since then I’ve known several cases where friends got cortisone shots and developed hiccups as a result. I think it is now listed as a known “rare” side effect, but back then the Dr. just laughed when I asked him if there could be a connection.

I have experienced relief firsthand from Tessalon Perles (benzonatate capsules) – usually prescribed for a chronic cough. I also know of a person in the hospital who post surgery had a bad case of hiccups – the doctors tried numerous things and medications with no success. The hiccups were causing this person great pain and when I suggested Tessalon, the doctors were quite hesitant as it is not usually used in this manner. After several medications failed to help, I asked: “why not at least try it, what harm could possibly occur”? They reluctantly agreed and were quite shocked when it worked!

Put a clean handkerchief over a small glass of water and drink the water thru the handkerchief. It works EVERY TIME.

After experiencing a stomach bug yesterday with significant vomiting, I developed the hiccups last night. I haven’t been bothered by hiccups for 50 years! I tried holding my breath, drinking ice water, didn’t work. Hardly any sleep last night. Then this article pops up in my inbox this morning. Going on 12 hours of hiccups. I tried the fingers in the ears while holding my breath. Slowed them down temporarily but didn’t stop them. Tried a couple more times, no go. I then tried the teaspoon of sugar. Tasted good but nothing. Then within a minute or so I tried the fingers in the ears/breath holding one more time and it worked! No hiccups for the past hour. If the hiccups return, will try the same sequence again.

I’ve never seen this fail with children and adults:

Take a mouthful of water, and hold it in mouth. Stand up and bend over at waist. While bent over with head pointed to floor, swallow. This does seem to interrupt the diaphragm spasm.

From a speech therapist.

Yes!!! I’ve used this remedy for years.

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