Having the hiccups is a mysterious occurrence. Unlike other common reflexes, like sneezing and coughing, there’s no known physiologic advantage for the hiccups. Yet, we’ve all experienced them numerous times in our lives. Every one has her own suggestion for how to get rid of hiccups, but what really works?
Sometimes hiccups occur because the nerves that run from your brain, through your lungs and stomach are irritated and cause a sudden spasm. Hiccups can also be due to acid reflux or GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease. And certain medications can cause hiccups. For the most part, they go away on their own after a short period of time. However, persistent hiccups can last for months or even years.
Whether you are trying to get rid of acute hiccups because they are bothersome or you are suffering from long-term hiccups, there are natural remedies that can help. Read on and I’ll show you how to get rid of hiccups for good.
What are Hiccups?
Hiccups are reflexes that cause a sudden contraction of your diaphragm, the primary muscle used in the process of inhalation. The diaphragm is the muscle under your lungs. After it involuntarily contracts, air abruptly rushes into the lungs and is stopped suddenly by the closure of the vocal cords, or glottis. This is what causes the “hic” sound.
According to research published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, a hiccup, referred to in medicine as singultus, is a programmed muscle exercise. We know this because fetuses and premature infants hiccup often. After infancy, hiccuping appears to be useless, but it may occur because of an irritation along the reflex arc. (1)
A hiccup occurs when the vagus nerve and the phrenic nerve send strong signals from the brainstem to the respiratory muscles. The external intercostal muscles (which run between the ribs and help with breathing) and the diaphragm contract and cause a forceful inhalation.
Common Signs and Symptoms
When you hiccup, you may feel a slight tightening sensation in your throat, chest or abdomen. The major sign of a hiccup is the “hic” sound that occurs when your windpipe closes immediately after your diaphragm contracts.
Everyone’s hiccup rate is different, but it’s usually consistent for each hiccup episode, occurring at a frequency of 4 to 60 hiccups per minute.
Hiccups are said to be persistent when they last longer than 48 hours. When hiccups are persistent, they can affect food and drink intake, conversation and concentration. This can lead to complications like exhaustion, frustration, insomnia and even potentially fatal consequences like aspiration pneumonia. (2)
Causes and Risk Factors
For most people, hiccups last for a short period and then stop. They can happen at any time and sometimes they start for no apparent reason at all. Hiccups can also be due to following causes:
- a swollen stomach caused by eating too quickly or overeating
- swallowing air
- drinking carbonated beverages
- sudden excitement
- sudden emotional stress
- consumption of alcohol
- excess smoking
- a sudden change in stomach temperature
Short-term, acute hiccups are most prevalent in newborns, who spend as much as 2.5 percent of their time hiccuping. After infancy, the frequency of hiccups diminishes and only happens occasionally for brief periods throughout life. (3)
Persistent hiccups that last longer than 48 hours may be due to a variety of factors. These can include the following health issues or triggers (4):
- gastrointestinal issues
- central nervous system disorders
- metabolic disorders
- psychogenic disorders
- certain medications
The two nerves that are involved in the involuntary contraction of the diaphragm are the vagus and phrenic nerves. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that contains motor and sensory fibers. It exits from the brain and passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen. The phrenic nerve originates in the neck and passes down between the lung and heart to reach the diaphragm. The phrenic nerve stimulates the diaphragm, so paralysis to this nerve can lead to persistent hiccups. (5)
For some people, persistent hiccups are due to GI issues, like acid reflux, bloating and heartburn, which can irritate the diaphragm.
Long-term hiccups may occur because of lesions between the pathway from the central nervous system to the phrenic nerve. This occurs mainly in diseases of the brain stem such as stroke, tumors, meningitis, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury.
Metabolic problems may also lead to persistent hiccups. Hiccups can be a sign of worsening kidney or liver function, for instance.
Research shows that long-term hiccups are more common in children, adult men and those with comorbid conditions. (6)
Conventional Treatment for Hiccups
Most of the time, hiccups go away on their own after a relatively short period of time and medical treatment isn’t necessary. People who have hiccups for longer than two days may need to address the underlying medical issue that is causing the hiccups.
Some conventional medications that are used to treat long-term hiccups include:
Chlorpromazine (or Haloperidol): Chlorpromazine is used to relieve prolonged hiccups, control nausea and vomiting, and treat behavioral problems or anxiety disorders. This is typically the first medication prescribed to people suffering from long-term hiccups. Some side effects from this drug include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation and trouble sleeping. (7)
Gabapentin: Gabapentin is usually used to prevent and control seizures. It is an anticonvulsant drug, which is why it can be used for the treatment of long-term hiccups. It may cause tremors, dizziness and loss of coordination.
Metoclopramide: Metoclopramide increases muscle contractions in the upper digestive tract and it’s used to treat heartburn caused by GERD, one of the most common causes of hiccups. High doses or long term use of this drug can be toxic, leading to serious movement disorders. If you are taking this drug, make sure to speak to your doctor about the many medicines that interact with it. This includes vitamins and herbal products.
Baclofen: Baclofen is used to treat muscle spasms that are caused by conditions like multiple sclerosis and a spinal cord injury. Side effects from this drug include headache, weakness, nausea and trouble sleeping.
Proton Pump Inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux, which promotes hiccups. Taking PPIs may lead to increased gas, abdominal pain, digestive issues and headache. (8)
How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 8 Natural Treatments
You’ve probably heard of numerous home remedies on how to get rid of hiccups. But, what exactly are you trying to accomplish with these methods? Most of these treatments are meant to reset the vagus nerve or allow your body to relax. One particular action may not stop your hiccups every time, so you may have to try a few of these home remedies until you find what works.
1. Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve runs from your brain to your stomach. Researchers believe that irritation to this nerve can cause hiccups, so you can try these simple actions to “reset” the nerve so that your hiccups disappear. You can “irritate” the pharynx and thereby stimulate the vagus nerve by sipping cold water, chewing on a lemon or eating a spoonful of raw honey mixed with warm water.
2. Relax your Diaphragm
Another goal is to relax the diaphragm and stop the spasms or contractions that cause hiccups from happening. One way to do this is to make the body retain carbon dioxide, which can be done by holding your breath for 10 seconds at a time or breathing into a paper bag.
Breathing into a paper bag increases the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood and makes the diaphragm contact more deeply in order to bring in more oxygen. This usually helps to get rid of hiccups. Take deep breaths into a small paper bag, but stop if you begin to feel lightheaded. (9)
3. Pull Your Knees to Your Chest
Pulling your knees to your chest will compress your chest, which serves as a counter-irritation to the diaphragm and may help to stop the contractions that cause hiccups. You can also try leaning forward to compress your chest. Take deep breaths in and out as you compress your chest and try to reset the signals that are causing spasms in your diaphragm.
4. Try the Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver is when you blow air out of your lungs while blocking your mouth and nose. This technique is used for increasing the tone of the vagus nerve and increasing the pressure in the throat, sinuses and inner ear. Some people use this breathing technique to stop an arrhythmia, but it may also help to get rid of the hiccups because it reset the signals sent by the vagus nerve. (10)
To do the Valsalva maneuver, breathe out forcefully for 10-15 seconds as you keep your mouth closed and pinch your nose. The pressure this puts on your nasal sinuses will stimulate the vagus nerve. (11)
5. Use Peppermint Oil
Peppermint essential oil can be used to get rid of hiccups because it stimulates belching by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. By placing one drop on the roof of your mouth, you are stimulating the vagus nerve and you may cause have to burp, which can stop the contractions that lead to hiccups. Dilute peppermint oil with coconut or grapeseed oil before ingesting it.
6. Try an Acid Reflux Diet
Persistent hiccups can be a common acid reflux symptom. Aside from hiccups, you may be experiencing heartburn, a bitter taste in your mouth, dry mouth, bad breath, burping and flatulence. Virtually every study done on GERD and acid reflux points to diet as a contributing factor. Your body is trying to alert you to a problem in your digestive tract. You should also work on slowing down while you eat, chewing your food well and eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. (12)
To get rid of hiccups by reducing your acid reflux, stick to unprocessed, organic foods that are free from GMOs as much as possible. Increase your fiber intake to support healthy bacteria in your gut and eat plenty of probiotic foods. You also want to reduce grains, especially when refined, and sugar consumption, eat high-quality protein (stick to grass-fed beef over conventional beef) and reduce your intake of refined vegetable oils, like canola oil. Some people also find that carbonated drinks, alcohol and spicy foods can lead to hiccups, so do your best to minimize those foods and drinks in your diet.
Eat the following foods to get rid of hiccups that are due to acid reflux:
- leafy greens
- free-range chicken
- grass-fed beef
- bone broth
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- apple cider vinegar
- aloe vera
7. Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the most common causes of short-term hiccups. Next time you get the hiccups, think about how you’re feeling in that moment and whether or not stress may be playing a role in the development of your hiccups. If that’s possible, then practice some simple stress relievers every day. These could include: exercising or practicing yoga, trying meditation or healing prayer, spending more time in nature or using stress-reducing essential oils like lavender and Roman chamomile. (13)
8. Try Acupuncture
Case studies show that acupuncture may effectively treat persistent hiccups, even when conventional forms of treatment don’t work. (14) Acupuncture is used to stimulate or irritate the nerves that are responsible for hiccups. Although there are no controlled studies involving acupuncture and hiccups, some people have been able to cease their long-term hiccups with this form of treatment, so it may be worth a try. (15)
Getting Rid of Hiccups in Newborns
It is common for newborns to get hiccups and usually they don’t bother them as much as they bother adults. To prevent hiccups in your baby, try to burp her throughout a feeding. Burping will get rid of excess gas that may be causing hiccups. It can also help to feed the newborn when she’s calm and to let her digest in an upright position for at least 20 minutes before she engages in heavy activity, like bouncing up and down.
To treat hiccups in your baby, try changing her position, burping the baby or calming the baby. Giving your baby a pacifier may help to relax her diaphragm and stop the hiccups.
If 10 minutes have passed and the baby still has hiccups, try feeding her from the breast or a bottle. This sometimes helps to get rid of hiccups.
If your hiccups are so severe that they are making it difficult for you to breathe, sleep or eat, or if your hiccups last longer than two days, then consult your healthcare provider.
- Hiccups are reflexes that cause a sudden contraction of your diaphragm, the primary muscle used in the process of inhalation.
- A hiccup occurs when the vagus nerve and the phrenic nerve send strong signals from the brainstem to the respiratory muscles.
- When you hiccup, you may feel a slight tightening sensation in your throat, chest or abdomen. The major sign of a hiccup is the “hic” sound that occurs when your windpipe closes immediately after your diaphragm contracts.
- Acute hiccups can be caused by overeating, drinking carbonated beverages, drinking alcohol, smoking, sudden excitement, emotional stress, swallowing air or sudden changes in stomach temperature.
- Long-term hiccups (lasting longer than 48 hours) can be caused by gastrointestinal issues, central nervous system disorders, metabolic disorder, psychogenic disorders or certain medications.
- To get rid of hiccups, you want to irritate or stimulate the vagus nerve, reduce stress, expand your diaphragm or resolve issues associated with GERD.