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What Causes Hiccups?

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"Hic!" You've just hiccuped for what seems like the tenth time since you finished your big dinner. Wonder where these funny noises are coming from? The part to blame is your diaphragm (say: die-uh-fram). This is a dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of your chest, and all hiccups start here.

The diaphragm almost always works perfectly. When you inhale, it pulls down to help pull air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and air flows out of the lungs back out through the nose and mouth.

But sometimes the diaphragm becomes irritated. When this happens, it pulls down in a jerky way, which makes you suck air into your throat suddenly. When the air rushing in hits your voice box, you're left with a big hiccup.

Some things that irritate the diaphragm are eating too quickly or too much, an irritation in the stomach or the throat, or feeling nervous or excited. Almost all cases of the hiccups last only a few minutes. Some cases of the hiccups can last for days or weeks, but this is very unusual and it's usually a sign of another medical problem.

You've probably heard lots of suggestions for how to get rid of hiccups, and maybe you've even tried a few. Holding your breath and counting to 10 is one way some people can get rid of their hiccups. Other people say that drinking from the "wrong" side of a glass of water is the way to become hiccup-free.

Putting sugar under your tongue might work, too. And maybe the most famous treatment — having someone jump out and scare you when you're not expecting it — helps some people wave goodbye to their hiccups. Boo!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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