Free Shipping on orders over $99

Why Do We Get Hiccups?

Digestion | August 16, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Why Do We Get Hiccups?

Ever suffered from a bout of hiccups? Although not dangerous in any way, this normal and common problem can be particularly annoying. For most people hiccups will last only a few minutes but prolonged hiccups can be a symptom of an underlying problem. Read on to find out what they are, what causes them and what may help to get rid of them.

What are hiccups?

Hiccups, or hiccoughs, are caused by an autonomic reflex that the body can’t control. During a hiccup your diaphragm spasms, sucking air into the lungs, and the quick inhalation causes the epiglottis to slam shut. The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscles underneath the lungs that help us to breathe and the epiglottis is skin at the top of your windpipe that prevents the inhalation of foods or fluids during swallowing. The immediate closure of the epiglottis causes the characteristic ‘hic’ sound.

Hiccups occur when the nerves that control the muscular activity of the diaphragm are triggered, resulting in the muscle going into spasm. Exactly what causes hiccups is unknown but there are certain activities that make you more prone to getting them.

hiccups-soft drinkWhat are the causes?

The most common triggers for short-term hiccoughs include:

  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Excitement or emotional stress
  • A sudden change in temperature
  • Eating too much food, especially hot or spicy foods
  • Eating too quickly
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Swallowing air when chewing on gum or sucking a lolly
  • Bad odours
  • Pregnancy

For some people who experience hiccups there is sometimes no apparent trigger. For the very small minority of people, hiccups that last longer than 24-48hrs may be a symptom of an underlying disorder which can be placed into the following categories:

Nerve damage or irritation

Damage to the vagus or phrenic nerves can interfere with the functioning of the diaphragm and can make a person more prone to hiccups. Factors that may cause this include thyroid abnormalities such as a goitre, cyst or tumour, reflux, inflammation of the oesophagus, sore throat, laryngitis or something in your ear touching your eardrum such as a hair.

Metabolic disorders, drugs and surgery

Hiccups can occur in diabetics, alcoholics and those with kidney disease or electrolyte imbalances. Certain medications including nicotine gum, barbiturates, steroids, tranquilizers and anaesthesia and abdominal or chest surgery can cause hiccups as a side-effect.

Infection and inflammation

Pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs) and pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) can interfere with the function of the surrounding nerves and muscles which can lead to hiccups.

Central nervous system disorders

An infection, damage or tumour in your central nervous system can disrupt the body’s normal control of the hiccup reflex. Examples include stroke, tumour, traumatic brain injury, encephalitis, meningitis or multiple sclerosis.

What can help…

Most cases of hiccups will resolve by themselves quickly without any intervention. If hiccups are due to an underlying condition, then treating this may resolve hiccups. Here are some folk remedies that are safe to try for acute hiccups.

  • Honey in warm water
  • Eating a spoonful of sugar
  • Drinking/gargling iced water
  • Biting on a piece of lemon
  • Eating peanut butter
  • Eating a fresh piece of ginger
  • Ask someone to give you a fright
  • Breathe into a bag
  • Hold your breath
  • Take deep breaths
  • Sit down and lean forward over your knees

Avoiding triggers

Avoiding triggersAvoid activities that bring on hiccups. This includes eating your food too fast and over-eating, stop when you are 80% full to avoid indigestion.

Reduce consumption of alcohol to within levels of moderation, quit smoking and find other alternatives to carbonated drinks. Don’t chew gum and find ways to reduce your stress levels by exercising and meditating.


Acupuncture has been used in clinical practice in China for over 3,000 years and is gaining popularity in Australia. A study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that acupuncture demonstrated a significant reduction in persistent hiccups in 16 males with cancer. It also reduced levels of discomfort, distress and fatigue. The mechanisms by which acupuncture is effective for hiccups remains unclear but it is believed to improve circulation, activate the autonomic nervous system, reduce inflammation and encourage normal nerve transmission. It is also possible that it influences the ‘hiccup centre’ by modulating the secretion of certain hormones and neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, noradrenaline and substances involved in reducing pain levels. Although only one study has been conducted, it could provide an effective treatment for people suffering from chronic hiccups, with little to no side-effects.


Although there are no nutrients that have proven to be effective in hiccups some of the following suggestions could theoretically be helpful for treating chronic cases of hiccups or in those who get frequent bouts.

To stop the diaphragm muscle spasming

Certain nutrients are important for proper muscular health, particularly in treating and preventing muscle spasms. The minerals magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium and vitamin B6 are such examples. In most cases supplementation with magnesium should be sufficient but potassium and calcium should also be consided. Sodium can be added to foods by using a good quality sea salt, but it is not necessary for the majority of people, especially for those who suffer from high blood pressure.

hiccups chamomileHerbs traditionally used to stop muscle spasms may be helpful and include chamomile, cramp bark, valerian, kava and lavender.

Specific liniments could be applied topically to the skin around the torso for fast relief. Examples of ingredients that help to relieve muscle spasms include magnesium oil, menthol and chamomile. 

Nutrients for nerve health

In naturopathy, nutrients used for nerve health, including nerve damage, are lipoic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 and magnesium. They have proven to be effective for other conditions involving nerve damage but not necessarily for hiccups. Herbs traditionally used for nerve damage include St John’s wort and bacopa. If there is stress, nervine herbs are usually indicated and include oats, skullcap and wild yam.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Chang FY, Lu CL. Hiccup: Mystery, nature and treatment. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012 Apr;18(2):123-130

Ge A, Ryan M, et al. Acupuncture treatment for persistent hiccups in patients with cancer. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jul; 16(7): 811–816

Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia

backBack to Blog Home