Hiccups- What Causes Hiccups? Could It Mean Something Serious?

My hippo has the hiccups
and his hiccups shake the ground.
The floor is always rumbling
when my hippo is around.

I bought him at the pet store
But I missed a small detail.
I didn’t see the sign said:
“Hiccupotamus for sale.”

Discussion around hiccups has been doing the rounds across all cultures for centuries. In German, Slavic, Turkish, Baltic and Indian folklore, it is said that a person is having hiccups, is being talked about somewhere else by someone. There is a separate section dedicated to hiccups in the Guinness Book of world records, in which an American farmer, Charles Osborne is recorded to have had continuous hiccups for 68 years. The hiccups are even mentioned in the ancient records of Plato’s symposium in which the physician advises a patient suffering from hiccups to hold his breath or provoke a sneeze, causing the hiccups to stop. In infants, there is a myth that frequent hiccupping occurs during a growth spurt. The question is what causes hiccups?

Hiccups or “singultus” are a continuous sound which we make when the diaphragm spasms involuntarily. When a spasm occurs, the vocal chords shut down tightly and suddenly, causing the distinctive sound ‘hic’, also known as hiccups. Hiccups can be annoying and can occur suddenly. It is sometimes thought that hiccups can also be contagious, but it is just another scientific phenomenon which occurs if the human body does not function as expected.

Causes for hiccups

Hiccups occur for a variety of reasons, some of which are still unknown. According to the ancient Indian medical system, Ayurveda, there are 5 common categories of hiccups. In most cases, hiccups last only for a few minutes while others are more persistent. Some are chronic and recurring which have other serious underlying causes.

The five types of hiccups, as per Ayurveda are:

1. Annaja:

Occurs due to overeating. This type of hiccup goes away on its own

2. Yammala:

This category of hiccup occurs in pairs. This makes the head wobble.

3. Chuddra:

In this category of hiccups, the frequency between hiccups is low. i.e. the time interval between two hiccups is high.

4. Mahati:

This severe hiccup results due to problems in the stomach, heart, brain etc. If this hiccup occurs regularly, it is an indication of a very serious underlying disease.

5. Ghambir:

This is a deeply resonating hiccup where the sound is produced from the navel. It occurs due to a very serious underlying complication.

In the current day scenario, the most common reasons for hiccups or a diaphragm spasm are as below:

  1. Excitement or stress
  2. Overeating or eating too much in a gulp
  3. Swallowing air while eating or sucking food
  4. Drinking too much
  5. Sudden temperature changes

What Causes Hiccups to Last Long?

But if hiccups occur for more than a day, it can be due to another underlying reason like:

1. Acid reflux:

Persistent acid reflux also called GERD might result in the patient having hiccups as a side effect. When the stomach acid travels upwards towards the oesophagus, it might cause a flux in the diaphragm which lies in-between the stomach and the oesophagus, causing regular hiccups.

2. Laryngitis or a sore throat:

In some cases, a sore throat might be a result of silent acid reflux, which the stomach acid might reach all the way to the throat. This condition, as mentioned above can also result in hiccups.

3. Nervous system disorders like Tumors, meningitis, Stroke etc.:

Tumors in the vagus nerves or pressing the vagus or phrenic nerves which connect to the diaphragm might result in continuous hiccups

4. Diabetes-

Diabetic neuropathy can cause damage to the phrenic or the Vagus nerve, resulting in continuous hiccups. Keeping the sugar level normal will help reduce this condition.

5. Kidney related disease:

The electrolyte imbalance in patients suffering from chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis, is the main reason for frequent hiccups to sometimes manifest. Hiccups is a lesser-known side effect of the kidney related disease.

6. A side effect of anaesthesia:

While undergoing a medical surgery, when anaesthesia is administered, in few cases this might result in chronic hiccups, which might hamper the surgery as it might lead to lung ventilation and prevent proper diagnostics.

7. Multiple sclerosis:

This disease of the nerve and the spinal cord rarely results in continuous and unending hiccups. This might then lead to respiratory failure. Pulse methylprednisolone is usually successful in curing the hiccups in this scenario.

8. An autoimmune disease like AIDS:

Hiccups tend to not stop in patients inflicted with AIDS which is an autoimmune disease. In this case, baclofen drug is said to give some relief.


One thing is sure that there are various ways to stop hiccups, from breathing techniques to ancient home remedies.

Also recommended- Causes and Treatment of Hiccups in New Born Babies

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.

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