Don’t take your hiccups for granted

Most people think of hiccups as a minor annoyance. They normally last a few minutes and disappear as suddenly and mysteriously as they arrived. 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.

“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 carbon dioxide 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.”

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).

But what if all the home remedies fail and the hiccups persist? After two days, it is important to 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, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or a tumor all could cause long-lasting hiccups.

That’s why diagnosis is essential in order 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 (Anesthesia and Analgesia, October 2017).

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 the experts, this is an underestimated problem that requires better research and much more effective treatments.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon has a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:

2018 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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