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Hiccups could be severe depending on cause


Experts have explained that hiccups occur, when a person’s intake of air is momentarily blocked. They said it is not such a serious issue, as everyone has had it. However, it becomes a problem, when the attacks are long lasting, which could indicate a serious medical problem. Dr. Olayide A. Jinadu, Medical Director at Charis-Med Hospital, Lagos, throws more light on hiccups, what triggers it and how it can be handled. GERALDINE AKUTU reports.

What are Hiccups and their Causes?
Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines hiccups as a diaphragmatic spasm, causing a sudden inhalation that is interrupted by a spasmodic closure of the glottis producing a noise (note though that hiccough is a misspelling, a modern variant, which I usually avoid.

Merriam Webster also defines hiccups as a spasmodic inhalation with closure of the glottis accompanied by a peculiar sound. For better comprehension, I would further define some of the above terms.

Diaphragmatic: from the word diaphragm, which is a muscular partition between the thorax (chest) and the abdomen. It is a very important component of the human respiratory system, as both lungs sit directly on it.


Spasms: a sudden involuntary contraction of one or more muscles, meaning you have no control over its function.

Inhalation: the act of drawing air into your lungs (breathing in).

Spasmodic: from the word spasm.

Glottis: The vocal apparatus of the larynx, consisting of the vocal folds of mucous membrane investing the vocal ligament and vocal muscle on each side, the free edges of which are the vocal cords, and of a median fissure. It is the opening between the vocal cords within the throat.

Hiccups have numerous causes, and depending on the severity. It is less severe, if it lasts less than 48 hours and more severe, if it lasts more than 48 hours.

Less severe hiccups are usually caused by drinking carbonated beverages, too much alcohol, eating too quickly, excitement or emotional stress, sudden temperature changes, swallowing air while chewing gum and sucking on candy, among others. This kind of hiccups seldom or almost never require medical attention.

The other variant, severe hiccups can be caused by hair or something else in the ear touching the eardrum, a tumour within the ear or brain, cyst or goitre in the neck, gastroesophageal reflux, sore throat, encephalitis, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, irritation of the diaphragm, alcoholism, general anaesthesia, barbiturates (a class of drugs), diabetes mellitus, renal (kidney) disease, electrolyte imbalance, steroids and tranquilisers, among others.

Who is often commonly affected?
Anybody can have hiccups. Babies have hiccups, just like older children, teenagers, young adults, the elderly, men and women. We all have had hiccups for different reasons and causes. For instance, babies have hiccups right from their mothers’ wombs and after birth because of gastroesophageal reflux, owing to their underdeveloped lower oesophageal sphincter, which lies between the oesophagus and stomach. The irritation caused by the reflux of food and acid triggers further irritation on the diaphragm. Other causes are overfeeding, allergies, gulping too much air, airborne irritants, crying and coughing, among others.

It has been observed that men are more likely to develop long-term hiccups than women. Hiccups can be triggered by mental or emotional issues, such as anxiety, stress and excitement or surgeries, especially abdominal surgeries, where general anaesthesia are used, large consumption of alcohol, electrolyte derangement, some drugs and inhalation of some irritants, among others.

When should one see a doctor?
Hiccups should be reported to your doctor the moment it persists well over 48 hours, if it causes poor sleep, if it is associated with difficulty in breathing, if it starts briefly after a surgery or in concert with other states of ill health.

What is hiccup reflex?
The hiccup reflex is a very common one, especially in infancy. It has been proposed that hiccups are triggered by the presence of air in the stomach. This stimulates the sharp intake typical of the reflex, moving swallowed air out of the stomach and effectively ‘burping’ suckling infants, allowing for the consumption of greater amounts of milk while feeding.

What are the risk factors?
It has been established earlier that hiccups occur in everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. However, it occurs more frequently in some people than others. Everyone has had hiccups once in their life, yet some are more prone to this than others. For instance, individuals with electrolyte imbalance from excessive vomiting and passage of watery stool, individuals with kidney diseases, individuals allergic to certain airborne irritants, individuals who just had abdominal surgeries or individuals experiencing extremes of temperatures or emotions.


What are the treatment options for hiccups?
A gamut of treatment options exist to choose from. Every form of culture or civilisation has employed one remedy or the other for hiccups over the years. For non-problematic hiccups, merely drinking water or holding your breath could do the trick.

Chlorpromazine, a drug has been found to be very useful in the medical treatment of severe forms of hiccups. However, you should see your doctor the moment you perceive it is serious. Other kinds would have to be cured by treating the root cause as elucidated above.

How can one get rid of hiccups at home?
The following are home remedies to cure hiccups: Hold your breath, drink a glass of water very quickly, have someone surprise you, have someone pull hard on your tongue. The list is endless. Hiccups are rarely a cause for concern, except when severe.

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