Hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours are defined as chronic hiccups.
Chronic hiccups are a rare medical occurrence that can interrupt daily life and cause health problems. Sleeping and eating adjustments are often needed to cope with the condition.
The cause is not always apparent, but chronic hiccups are often related to an underlying medical issue.
In this article, we look at what could cause chronic hiccups, along with steps that can be taken to treat them.
A hiccup is caused by an uncontrolled spasm of the diaphragm, followed by the vocal cords closing quickly and making a distinctive sound.
There is no clear cause of hiccups, but excitement, stress, or consuming specific food or drinks, such as fizzy soda, may trigger them.
Hiccups usually go away within a few minutes, but occasionally they may affect someone for hours. Hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours are classed as chronic and considered a serious medical condition.
In addition to being incredibly irritating, chronic hiccups often disrupt sleep and can make it difficult to eat or drink. They can sometimes have serious consequences, such as exhaustion, dehydration, and weight loss.
Although chronic hiccups have no clear cause, medication or a health condition could be to blame. While chronic hiccups are easy to diagnose, finding a possible underlying cause can take much longer and may not always be possible.
A hiccup is partly a spasm of the diaphragm, so conditions that irritate or inflame this part of the body, such as pneumonia or pleurisy, could be a factor in chronic hiccups.
The nerve that controls breathing may be damaged or irritated. Pressure could also have been placed on a nerve elsewhere in the body due to a change in the body, such as pregnancy or a tumor growing.
The part of the brain that controls unconscious actions, such as breathing, can stop working properly, perhaps after a stroke or head injury. Diseases affecting the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, could have the same effect.
Chronic hiccuping may be a symptom of a gastrointestinal disease, which affects the stomach, gullet, large and small intestine, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Some examples include:
- Crohn’s disease
- stomach ulcers
There have been some reports of people developing chronic hiccups after undergoing brain surgery and gastrointestinal procedures, such as gastroscopy. These reports suggest that medical interventions on parts of the body associated with hiccups could trigger the condition.
Some medications are linked to chronic hiccups. These include drugs used in combination, such as chemotherapy and corticosteroids, which are used to treat some conditions, including severe allergies and skin diseases.
As chronic hiccups are rare, there has been limited research into effective treatment and care.
Medication is usually effective in treating chronic hiccups, but further investigation into the underlying cause is necessary to determine how to prevent the hiccups from returning.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved chlorpromazine to treat chronic hiccups. Tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, and sedatives can also be used to disrupt the spasm creating the hiccup.
Sometimes, medication may not work, and surgery on the nerve that controls diaphragm movement may be necessary.
Chronic hiccups can have a serious impact on daily life. Living with the condition can be very stressful, causing anxiety and disrupting normal routines. As a result, trying to maintain good mental and physical health is essential.
Explaining the impact of the condition to colleagues, friends, and family, as well as seeking their support, can help someone cope with stress.
Chronic hiccups can make it difficult to sleep or cause someone to wake up during the night. This lack of sleep can result in a lack of energy during the day, causing exhaustion if the condition persists for a long time.
Getting plenty of rest and taking a nap during the day if possible can help prevent exhaustion. Regular exercise is important for a healthful lifestyle, but people should avoid activities that could be too tiring.
Hiccuping can make it difficult to eat and drink, which can result in a lack of energy, dehydration, malnutrition, or weight loss. It may be easier to eat smaller amounts of food throughout the day rather than eating larger meals at regular times.
Hot, spicy foods and fizzy drinks can make hiccups worse, so people should avoid them. Keeping a bottle of water on hand and drinking small amounts regularly throughout the day can help ensure a person stays hydrated.
People should also be aware of the possibility of choking on food or drink. Taking small mouthfuls and chewing food thoroughly before swallowing can help prevent this from happening.
If chronic hiccups last for a long time, they can affect overall health.
One study into chronic hiccups found that hiccups often occur when people are hospitalized and given a general anesthetic before surgery.
When this happens, there is worry that loss of sleep and difficulty eating, which the condition causes, could slow the recovery process.
Chronic hiccups can cause gastroesophageal reflux, where stomach acid leaks up into the food pipe. This can lead to the following symptoms:
- an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- pain when swallowing
- feeling sick
- bad breath
Medications for gastroesophageal reflux include antacids, a type of over-the-counter medication that helps to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced. Stronger prescription medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI), are also available.
Using an extra pillow to raise the head in bed and avoiding food and drinks that trigger heartburn may also help.
Chronic hiccups are unpleasant and can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
It is crucial to get plenty of rest, eat and drink small amounts regularly and be aware of possible complications to help cope with the condition. Fortunately, medication is usually effective in treating chronic hiccups.
It can be difficult to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Doctors should perform a range of physical examinations and tests to diagnose any health condition that could be responsible for chronic hiccups to prevent them from happening again.