Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Biological: Behavioural genetics · Evolutionary psychology · Neuroanatomy · Neurochemistry · Neuroendocrinology · Neuroscience · Psychoneuroimmunology · Physiological Psychology · Psychopharmacology (Index, Outline)

Name of Symptom/Sign:
ICD-10 R066
ICD-9 786.8
OMIM [1]
MedlinePlus [2]
eMedicine /
DiseasesDB [3]

A hiccup or hiccough (normally pronounced "HICK-up"; IPA: /ˈhɪkʌp/), also known as a condition of singulitis, is the spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm that repeats several times per minute. In humans, the abrupt rush of air into the lungs causes the epiglottis to close, creating the "hic" listen 

noise. In medicine, it is known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), or singultus. 

The term "hiccup" is also used to describe a small and unrepeated aberration in an otherwise consistent pattern.

A bout of hiccups generally resolves itself without intervention, although many home remedies claim to shorten the duration, and medical treatment is occasionally necessary.


While many cases develop spontaneously, hiccups are known to be triggered by specific events, such as lack of water, eating too fast, being hungry for long, taking a cold drink while eating a hot meal, burping, eating very hot or spicy food, laughing vigorously, coughing, drinking alcoholic beverages in excess, crying out loud (sobbing causes air to enter the stomach), some smoking situations where abnormal inhalation can occur (in tobacco or other smoke like cannabis, perhaps triggered by precursors to coughing), electrolyte imbalance, talking too long, clearing the throat, by some of the stronger opiate painkillers such as Heroin, Morphine, and Oxycodone or from lack of vitamins. Hiccups may be caused by pressure to the phrenic nerve by other anatomical structures, or having the sensation that there is food in the esophagus, rarely by tumors and certain kidney disease. The American Cancer Society reports that 30% of chemotherapy patients suffer singultus as a side effect of treatment.

Phylogenetic hypothesis

Christian Straus and co-workers at the Respiratory Research Group, University of Calgary, Canada, propose that the hiccup is an evolutionary remnant of earlier amphibian respiration; amphibians such as frogs gulp air and water via a rather simple motor reflex akin to mammalian hiccuping.[1] In support of this idea, they observe that the motor pathways that enable hiccuping form early during fetal development, before the motor pathways that enable normal lung ventilation form; thus according to recapitulation theory the hiccup is evolutionarily antecedent to modern lung respiration. Additionally, they point out that hiccups and amphibian gulping are inhibited by elevated CO2 and can be completely stopped by the drug Baclofen (a GABAB receptor agonist), illustrating a shared physiology and evolutionary heritage. These proposals would explain why premature infants spend 2.5% of their time hiccuping, indeed they are gulping just like amphibians, as their lungs are not yet fully formed.[2]


Ordinary hiccups are cured easily without medical intervention; in most cases they can be stopped simply by forgetting about them. However, there are a number of anecdotally prescribed treatments for casual cases of hiccups. Some of the more common home remedies include: scaring the afflicted, drinking water (sometimes in an unorthodox manner), and altering one's breathing.

Medical treatment

Hiccups are treated medically only in severe and persistent (termed "intractable") cases, such as in the case of a 15 year old girl who in 2007 hiccuped continuously for five weeks.[3] Haloperidol (Haldol, an anti-psychotic and sedative), metoclopramide (Reglan, a gastrointestinal stimulant), and chlorpromazine (Thorazine, an anti-psychotic with strong sedative effects) are used in cases of intractable hiccups. In severe or resistant cases, baclofen, an anti-spasmodic, is sometimes required to suppress hiccups. Effective treatment with sedatives often requires a dose that renders the person either unconscious or highly lethargic. Hence, medicating singultus is done short-term, as the affected individual cannot continue with normal life activities while taking the medication.

Persistent and intractable hiccups due to electrolyte imbalance (hypokalemia, hyponatremia) may benefit from drinking a carbonated beverage containing salt to normalize the potassium-sodium balance in the nervous system. The carbonation promotes quicker absorption.

The administration of intranasal vinegar is thought to be safe and handy method to stimulate dorsal wall of nasopharynx, where the pharyngeal branch of the glossopharyngeal nerve (afferent of the hiccup reflex arc) is distributed.[4] Digital rectal massage[5] has also been reported to be effective in a single case report.

Dr. Bryan R. Payne, a neurosurgeon at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, has had some success with an experimental new procedure in which a vagus nerve stimulator is implanted in the upper chest of patients with an intractable case of hiccups. "It sends rhythmic bursts of electricity to the brain by way of the vagus nerve, which passes through the neck. The Food and Drug Administration approved the vagus nerve stimulator in 1997 as a way to control seizures in some patients with epilepsy. In 2005, the agency endorsed the use of the stimulator as a treatment of last resort for people with severe depression."[6]

Home remedies

While numerous home remedies are offered, they mostly fall into three broad categories. These categories include purely psychosomatic cures centered around relaxation and distraction, cures involving swallowing and eating (with the rationale generally that this would remove irritants or reset mechanisms in the affected region), and cures involving controlled/altered breathing.

Long-term cases

American man Charles Osborne had the hiccups for 68 years, from 1922 to 1990, and was entered in the Guinness World Records as the man with the Longest Attack of Hiccups.[7]

In January 2007, teenager Cheyenne Motland from Washington in the United States set a national record for females by hiccuping since October 29, 1997. To this day, her hiccups continue to plague her.[8] After her hiccups returned, her neurologist suggested that she may actually have Tourette syndrome.[9]

See also

  • Getting the wind knocked out of you


  1. Straus, C. (February 2003). A phylogenetic hypothesis for the origin of hiccough. BioEssays 25 (2): 182–188. 10.1002/bies.10224.
  2. Kahrilas, P.J. (November 1997). Why do we hiccup?. Gut 41 (5): 712–713.
  3. includeonly>"Teen's hiccups stop after five weeks", ABC News Online, 2007-03-02.
  4. Iwasaki, N, et al. (May 2007). Hiccup treated by administration of intranasal vinegar. No To Hattatsu 39 (3): 202–5.
  5. Odeh, M (February 1990). Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage. J Intern Med 227 (2): 145–6.
  6. includeonly>Schaffer, Amanda. "A Horrific Case of Hiccups, a Novel Treatment", New York Times, 2006-01-10. Retrieved on 2008-04-24.
  7. "Survivor of 68-Year Hiccup Spell Dies. Omaha World - Herald, 05 May 1991, Sunrise Edition: 2.B.
  8. includeonly>"Florida girl hiccuping again after returning to school",, March 16, 2007.
  9. includeonly>"Hiccup Girl: "I have Tourette's" (no longer working", WTSP-TV,, January 10, 2008.
  • "Fish Out of Water", Neil Shubin, Natural History, February 2008 issue, pages 26-31 - hiccup related to reflex in fish and amphibians.

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).