Urban myths and mysteries about hiccups

Urban myths and mysteries about hiccups


Everyone gets a case of the hiccups eventually. It’s caused by spasms in the diaphragm that can occur for pretty much no reason. It can be uncomfortable but is hardly ever life threatening. Here are some things about hiccups you probably didn’t know.

1. If hiccups last for more than 48 hours, there’s an underlying cause

Random bouts of the hiccups are perfectly normal and aren’t the sign of any disease. That is, of course, they last for longer than two days. If that’s the case then there’s an 80% chance that there’s something else wrong that’s causing hiccups. The other 20% is usually psychological problems. In any case, if you have them for that long, there’s something else wrong.

2. Lots of things can cause hiccups

Hiccups can be caused by a number of things. Alcohol consumption, smoking, sudden changes of temperature (both inside of and outside of your stomach), a bloated stomach from overeating, shock, stress, and excitement have all been linked to causing short term bouts of hiccups. Long term hiccups can be caused by gastrointestinal or respiratory distress, diabetes,

3. None of those home remedies work

scared people hiccups


Hiccups only last for a few minutes and there are no recognized remedies to make them stop aside from doctor-administered medicine. So drinking water, holding your breath, or getting scared actually doesn’t help. It’s likely that by the time these events occur, the hiccups have naturally stopped on their own. Sites will still list the home remedies but you’ll notice that they’ll only refer to them as things that “may help” rather than “will help”.

4. One superstitious standpoint are that hiccups are caused by hate

An old wives’ tale asserts that you only have hiccups when someone is talking about you in a negative way and that the only way to cure it is to guess the name of the person who is doing it. Of course, this isn’t true because if it were there would be people on this planet who would never stop hiccuping! In Russia, an old folklore states that hiccups occur when someone is thinking about you (good or bad). A third superstition asserts that hiccups mean that you are cursed with bad luck and that Satan lives inside of you.

5. The sound of a hiccup is caused by your own body cutting the air off

The trademark hiccup sound has been used in cartoon comedy for ages but how is it made? When the diaphragm contracts, it causes a quick intake of air that is promptly cut off by the closing of the vocal cords. The resulting noise pops out as a hiccup! According to studies, it takes about 35 milliseconds between the diaphragm contraction and the closing of the windpipe.

6. Everyone can get hiccups

If you thought there was a demographic that never got the hiccups, guess again. People of all races, all sexes, and all ages can get the hiccups from the oldest people to the youngest children. That includes fetuses that are still inside the womb. They can get hiccups too! It’s almost kind of poetic. Hiccups don’t discriminate. They also affect pretty much any animal with an evolved respiratory system including cats and dogs!

7. The average person has a hiccup frequency of 4-60 hiccups per minute

There is actually a unit of measurement for hiccup frequency and it’s hpm (hiccups per minute). The average person has a 4-60 hpm. That means there are people up there who hiccup once per second for a whole minute. That sounds like the opposite of fun.

8. Hiccups have a total of three names currently

You know the first one which are hiccups. The other two are diaphragmatic spasms and singultus. The first one is pretty self explanatory. Singultus comes from the Latin phrase “singult” which is loosely translated as “the act of catching one’s breath while sobbing.” In the olden days, hiccups were also called yox, hickot, hickock, hitchcock, and hiccough. Eventually, it became hiccups and that’s the way it stayed.

9. There was a guy who hiccuped for 68 years



From 1922 to 1990, a man by the name of Charles Osbourne had a case of the hiccups. Reportedly, he was picking up a pig to weigh it when he started to hiccup and he just kind of never stopped. He continued to live a full life, fathering eight children and getting married twice.

It’s a common occurrence but we still don’t known what causes hiccups exactly. The reigning theory is that the diaphragm gets irritated somehow and decides to contract until the irritation goes away. After a few minutes, it doesn’t matter anyway because they’ll be gone. Unless your name is Charles Osbourne, then it’d be a good idea to seek medical attention.

Ever wonder why we get the hiccups? Are they really associated with alcohol use? And to get rid of them, does frightening the “hiccupper” really work?

Hiccups in Health

The reason we hiccup is unknown. The phenomenon is nearly universal and it can even be observed in a fetus, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy. The technical term for hiccups is singultus (from the Latin, singult, which describes catching your breath while crying). Hiccupping is a complex reflex: A sudden contraction or spasm of the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs makes you inhale quickly and involuntarily. It ends with “glottic closure” — the space in the throat near the vocal cords snaps shut, producing the typical sound. In most cases, only one of the two sides of the diaphragm is involved; it is left-sided in 80 percent of cases.

While much is uncertain, this much is clear: Most of the time hiccups are simply a normal part of the human condition and, as annoying as they may be, they rarely last long. While hiccups occasionally indicate illness (as described below), they rarely are cause to worry, and there should be no urgency to “cure” yourself when the hiccups will almost always go away soon regardless of what you do.

Why Hiccups?

Most likely hiccups are a reflex. Nerves inside the chest send signals to the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs to spontaneously contract during normal breathing. This “hiccup reflex” may be set off by many triggers, including:

  • Emotional stress or excitement
  • Stretching of the stomach as may occur after overeating, drinking carbonated beverages, or swallowing air
  • Abrupt changes in the temperature (as with drinking a hot beverage)
  • Alcohol binging
  • Smoking

What Is Normal?

It is not easy to define “normal” hiccups. My medical dictionary describes them as “a spasmodic inhalation with closure of the glottis accompanied by a peculiar sound – fair enough! But what if it goes on for an hour or more? At some point, everyone might agree that prolonged or particularly forceful or painful hiccups are not normal and warrant more than the usual “wait it out” strategy. Experts have set up these definitions for hiccups based on how long they last:

  • A bout of hiccups — Having hiccups on and off for up to 48 hours
  • Persistent hiccups — Hiccups that last more than 48 hours but less than one month
  • Intractable hiccups — hiccups lasting two months or more

A standard definition of “abnormal” hiccups is important in order to study the phenomenon in illness and to determine effective treatment.


The Bottom Line

Hiccups are a normal and common human experience (though shared by many animals as well). They may serve an important purpose, although what that could be remains unknown. The next time you are afflicted with hiccups and everyone around you is giving you different advice, you may be better off politely walking away; chances are excellent that your hiccups will soon pass no matter what you do. And while others may think you’ve been drinking just because you have the hiccups, let them know that’s a common misconception — unless, of course, it’s true.

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