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Hiccups are involuntary in nature and are caused by contractions of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs. These contractions is also accompanied by a sharp closure of the vocal chords which leads to the characteristic popping sound of the hiccup.

In most cases, hiccups last for a few minutes, however there are certain conditions in which they last for several hours and even days. This may seem amusing at first, however can point out to a serious underlying condition.

Common causes of hiccups include:

  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Eating spicy food
  • Aggravated emotional states
  • Swallowing air while eating
  • Drinking alcohol

All of these and sometimes none of these could be the cause of hiccups that last for a few minutes.  

Conditions associated with persistent hiccups:

  • Tumor of the neck
  • Cyst
  • Goiter
  • Brain injury
  • Infection of the brain
  • Stroke
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Post surgery

The basic pathology that is shared among all of these conditions is that nerve function (Vagus) is affected. This can happen due to direct injury or pressure from a nearby growth. It can also occur due to a central nervous system condition which affects nerve function.

A condition where hiccups have been going on continuously for over 48 hours is to be treated with extreme caution. Try and get an appointment with your physician as soon as possible or walk in to a hospital emergency room.

What's Causing Your Hiccups? Tests You Can Expect

Certain tests may be ordered by your doctor. This includes a neurological exam to make sure that your nerve function is okay. This clinical diagnosis is arrived at by checking balance, reflexes and muscular harmony.

A laboratory investigation to check kidney function, blood sugar level and any signs of presence of infection may also be done.

If neither of these tests return anything significant then the doctor may also order a chest X-ray, CT Scan and MRI to look for any pre-existing anatomical abnormalities that may have started to act up. The patency of the airway will also be checked to make sure that no small foreign object has got lodged inside and causing irritation.

Treatment Of Persistent Hiccups

There is a chance that even long-term chronic hiccups might disappear without any treatment. If they do not, then the treatment will focus on the underlying medical condition uncovered. If the hiccups continue for longer than two days then doctors frequently use one or a combination of chlorpromazine, metoclopramide and baclofen.

There can be some occasions when even these drugs may not be able to stop the hiccups. This calls for surgical intervention to anesthetize  or block the vagus nerve. There have been some experiments with electrical devices that provide small stimulus to the vagus continuously. Results have been promising however more amount of research is needed into the practice.

People have also experimented with the use of experimental medicine to treat hiccups. No standardized testing or results are available for the use of these methods and so only anecdotal evidence exists.

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