10 Causes of Hiccups that Will Take Your Breath Away

Hiccups are typically little more than mild inconveniences. Despite how common this condition is, most people know little about it, including what exactly causes hiccups.

What causes hiccups?

When it comes to treating hiccups, knowing what causes this annoying condition is key to treating and even preventing future hiccupping bouts.

The first cause of hiccups? It occurs when you just won’t slow down…

1. Eating Too Quickly

This cause is one babies know all too well; rushing while you eat is one of the most common cause of the hiccups.

However, just what is the connection between rushing to get that hoagie for lunch down in time to clock back in and hiccups that come later?

Why Does Eating Quickly Cause Hiccups?

The Short Answer

Eating quickly can be very practical. But doing so can cause you to unintentionally swallow air along with your lunch, which can lead to hiccups.

The Long Answer

Eating quickly can lead to hiccups. Why, though?

Well, rushed eating typically means inhaling as you eat, which can mean swallowing lots of air. When you consistently swallow excess air, your diaphragm contracts reflexively, even though your lungs never expanded. This reaction puts your breath out of sync with your diaphragm.

The result? Hiccups.

The Solution?

Slow. Down. While. Eating.

While this cause of hiccups is harmless, the same cannot be said of the following…

2. Alcoholism, Liver Problems & Stomach Problems

Unfortunately, hiccups aren’t always just annoying. Sometimes, they can be an indication of an underlying illness.

What Conditions Cause Hiccups?

There are several diseases and other medical conditions that can result in hiccups. These conditions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Alcoholism
  • Pneumonia
  • Stomach disorders
  • Bowel diseases
  • Uremia
  • Liver cancer
  • Hepatitis

Why Do Diseases Cause Hiccups?

How hiccups occur exactly depends on the disease or medical condition. That being said, some common ways malady results in hiccups includes:

  • Alcoholism: Alcohol promotes acid reflux, where harsh stomach acid enters the esophagus (throat). Throat irritation can lead to irritation of the vagus nerve within it, which triggers hiccups.
  • Most Stomach Disorders: Most stomach disorders can affect the vagus nerve, which may also result in hiccuping.
  • Liver Problems: Problems with the liver—including swelling, infection, or masses—can also irritate the diaphragm.

What Do these Kinds of Hiccups Feel Like?

Depending on the underlying cause, hiccups may not show up alone or may present differently.

  • Alcoholism: Because of the excess of acid concerning alcoholism-related hiccups, the hiccups are usually accompanied with a severe burn in the chest.
  • Severe Liver Conditions: With severe issues like hepatitis, bouts can last well over 48 hours. This occurrence is known as chronic hiccuping.

Of course, physical problems and conditions alone aren’t the only causes of hiccuping. Sometimes, our own emotions can trigger this condition…

3. Emotional Stress

It’s common for hiccups to occur during moments of elevated stress. This process can be self-sustaining, as the stress of having the hiccups itself exacerbates the issue.

How Does Stress Cause Hiccups?

The Short Answer

When someone is intensely stressed, they may hyperventilate. Hyperventilation can lead to drinking in excess air to the point that the diaphragm is out of sync with the breath. This process results in hiccuping.

The Long Answer

When a person is stressed, their heightened emotional state may lead to elevated body temperature. This elevation in turn may lead to an increase in oxygen use, resulting in shorter breaths (hyperventilation).

Hyperventilation is yet another opportunity to take in air incorrectly (as is the case with eating too fast). As a result, the diaphragm becomes out of sync with your now-erratic breathing pattern. Hiccups ensue.

What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

Besides hiccuping, panic attack symptoms include:

  • Pounding, racing heart
  • Chest pains
  • Sweating and chills
  • Tingling or a numbing sensation
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • Intense fear
  • Hyperventilation

The following cause of hiccups? It absolutely requires medical attention…

4. Brain Tumor

In some cases, chronic hiccups can indicate that you have a brain tumor, believe it or not.

How Do Brain Tumors Cause Hiccups?

The Short Answer

Brain tumors can press on certain nerves that signal diaphragm muscles to contract, which results in hiccups.

The Long Answer

Brain tumors can compress the phrenic nerve, the neural pathway that controls to the diaphragm. When compressed, this nerve will send out disturbed signals to the diaphragm. As a result, diaphragm muscles contract involuntarily, resulting in hiccups.

What are the Symptoms of Brain Tumors?

Hiccuping isn’t a common side effect of brain tumors. More common symptoms of this serious condition include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Personality changes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking
  • “Pins and needles” sensations
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced sensation of touch
  • Seizures

The following causes of hiccups? They’re related to lifestyle choices (meaning it’s much easier to prevent hiccups when they are to blame)…

5. Smoking or Chewing gum

If you are a smoker or gum-lover, you may find yourself with the hiccups more often than not. Why is that, though?

How Does Smoking & Chewing Gum Cause Hiccuping?

The Short Answer

Smoking and chewing gum can result in hiccups for reasons similar to eating too fast: you take in too much air.

The Long Answer

Both smoking and chewing gum cause you to unintentionally inhale and swallow at the same time. The extra air you take in gets trapped somewhere it can’t easily get out of; this entrapment causes the diaphragm to go out of sync with your natural breathing rhythm. Once again, hiccuping ensues.

With smoking cigarettes specifically, nicotine could also be to blame. You see, nicotine acts as a stimulant that can loosen the muscles of the throat, which may induce hiccups.

What are the Side Effects of Smoking?

You might notice more than just hiccups with smoking. This dangerous habit can also lead to:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tooth and gum decay
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Constant coughing
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Brain damage
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Ulcers
  • Early wrinkles
  • And much more

Lifestyle habits aren’t the only ways we can get hiccups. Sometimes the medications we take are to blame…

6. Medications

Yes, some medications can actually result in a bout of hiccups or two.

Which Drugs Can Cause Hiccuping?

Drugs known to cause hiccuping include (but are not limited to) Valium, Ativan, and Xanax, all of which are benzodiazepines (a tranquilizer class of drugs).

How Do Medications Cause Hiccuping?

The Short Answer

Benzodiazepines can result in acid reflux, which can lead to hiccuping.

The Long Answer

A common side effect of many benzodiazepines is acid reflux, and hiccups come with it. Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of the esophagus relaxes at the wrong time. This poor timing causes stomach acid to back up into the throat.

Now, stomach acid is incredibly harsh and can irritate the lining of the throat. In some cases, irritation can be so severe that hiccuping results.

What are Other Common Side Effects of
Benzodiazepines?

While specific side effects will vary based on factors like the individual, the specific drug, and the dosage, common side effects from taking this class of drugs include:

  • Confusion
  • Acid reflux/heartburn
  • Dizziness
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Heightened depression
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sleepiness
  • Vision problems

The following medical intervention can also result in bouts of hiccuping…

7. Surgery

Some patients experience reoccurring bouts of hiccups days after having surgery. This situation can happen seemingly out of the blue, days after the patient otherwise recovers. What could make something like this happen?

How Can Recovering from Surgery Trigger Hiccups?

Not all surgery causes hiccuping. In fact, not all surgeries that result in hiccups cause them in the same way. That being said, some common ways recovering from surgery results in hiccuping include:

  • In some cases, the tube used to help a person breathe during the operation damages the phrenic nerve.
  • Damage to certain parts of the brain during brain surgery can cause hiccups as well.
  • Medications for post-surgery pain relief could trigger hiccups as well.

There isn’t much you can do to stop hiccups post-surgery, unlike the following very controllable cause of hiccuping…

8. Eating Too Much

Eating too much food is an incredibly common cause for hiccups, arguably more common than eating too fast. This fact is especially true with fatty foods or spicy foods.

How Does Eating Too Much Cause Hiccuping?

The Short Answer

Eating too much and/or eating spicy and fatty foods can lead to acid reflux, which in turn can mean hiccuping.

The Long Answer

This cause all has to do, once again, with irritating the diaphragm and acid reflux. Specifically, when you stuff yourself with food, (especially acidic, fatty, or spicy foods) the stomach can swell. This swelling can irritate the diaphragm, creating a bout of hiccups.

Furthermore, a stuffed stomach is more likely to result in stomach acid getting pushed into the throat. Hence acid reflux. Hence hiccups.

What are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common cause of hiccuping. So, just what are the symptoms of this condition, anyway? Symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Burning pain in the chest
  • Burning pain that occurs after eating
  • Burning pain that worsens after lying down
  • Burping
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea

The following cause of hiccups? In the United States, it’s the #5 cause of death and leading cause of disability…

9. Stroke

Some stroke patients find themselves suffering randomly from nonstop bouts of hiccups days, or even weeks, after they suffer a stroke.

How Do Strokes Cause Hiccups?

First Things First: Why Do Strokes Happen?

Strokes occur when an artery becomes blocked, which cuts off blood and oxygen to and from the brain. In severe cases, blood vessels can burst, leading to internal bleeding. The resulting buildup of blood can increase pressure in the brain, causing even more damage that “just” a lack of blood flow and oxygen would.

How Do Strokes Induce Hiccuping?

A stroke can damage any part of the brain. And, since the brain controls the rest of the body, that means any bodily function can be the victim of a stroke. If the phrenic nerve is damaged during a stroke, it could result in hiccups.

What are the Signs of a Stroke?

If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing a stroke, call for help right away. The sooner help is received, the better the odds of survival are. Signs of stroke are easily remembered with F.A.S.T.:

  • Face Drooping
  • Arm Weakness or Dropping
  • Speech Difficulty or Difficulty Understanding Speech
  • Time to Call 911

Our Final Cause of Hiccups?

The final cause of hiccups on this list? It’s absolutely gut-wrenching…

10. Ulcer

One of the many signs you have an ulcer—an open sore that usually develops on the lining of the stomach—comes in the form of those pesky hiccups.

How Do Ulcers Cause Hiccups?

The Short Answer

Ulcers can lead to acid reflux, which in turn can lead to hiccups.

The Long Answer

The stomach is constantly producing acid to break down food; this breakdown is necessary so that the body can absorb the food into the bloodstream as nutrients. When the digestive tract is blocked (as a result of the body’s inflammatory response to the ulcer), acid builds up. As a result, it has nowhere to go but towards the esophagus.

We know the following sensations as heartburn. When acid reflux occurs, it can trigger certain nerves, which leads to hiccuping.

What are the Symptoms of Ulcers?

Besides hiccuping, ulcers can also result in the following:

  • Acid reflux
  • Indigestion
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive gas
  • Nausea or vomiting

What’s Next?

What’s most important for someone battling the hiccups to know?…

Control the Cause, Control the Hiccups

Hiccups can be due to any number of reasons. Most often, hiccups are harmless, simply the result of something like eating too quickly.

Other times, though, hiccups can indicate a more serious condition. Persistent hiccups accompanied by other concerning symptoms (like intense headaches or chest pains) require medical attention.

How Can You Avoid Hiccups?

To reduce the odds of hiccups, take preventative measures. These measures can include:

  • Eating at a moderate pace
  • Not overeating
  • Abstaining from smoking
  • Being mindful of how you’re inhaling while chewing gum
  • Avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux and heartburn

These mild cases can be troublesome and annoying, but not impossible to treat.

Other cases are more complicated. For example, in any case where the phrenic nerve is affected, hiccups are likely. This damage could happen as a result of surgery, an accident, or even a tumor.

Final Thoughts

In any case, hiccups have so many reasons for occurring. Knowing those reasons could hold the key to curing them or could even save your life.

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