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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.
What Can You Do About Chronic Hiccups?
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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