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Hold Your Breath! What Causes Hiccups?

Updated on July 17, 2014
Does the sun cause hiccups?
Does the sun cause hiccups? | Source

We all get them. We all have had them. We will probably get them in the near future – but have you ever stopped to wonder what causes hiccups? If you hold your breath, will it really help solve the problem? There are a number of different reasons why we occasionally have a run of the hiccups, but before we explore it any further let’s define what a hiccup really is.

What are hiccups?

Technically speaking, when we “hiccup” what is really happening is a contraction of the diaphragm – the muscle between our chest and stomach. Whenever the diaphragm contracts quickly, it causes our vocal chords to shoot up a hiccup for everyone to hear. So next time it happens while surrounded by others at a party, you can say, “Oh excuse me. That was just my diaphragm flexing its muscles!” Or on second thought, maybe just keep quiet and hold your breath.

What are the main causes for hiccups?

Overeating or eating too quickly

Knowing what causes hiccups is difficult to determine, but food consumption is probably the most common cause for the hiccups. If you eat too much, it will fill your stomach and put a lot of pressure on your diaphragm causing it to contract or spasm. The same can happen if you eat too quickly. The excess air taken in as you eat can evoke a similar result. So try to keep your meal portions small and avoid racing to finish the food from your plate. This is important to remember, especially if you are looking to keep your weight in check and stay healthy in general.

Drinking carbonated drinks and alcohol

Carbonated soft drinks as well as alcoholic beverages can trigger an onslaught of hiccups as well. These types of drinks can trigger acid to rise up from your stomach and irritate the diaphragm. The carbonated bubbles also play a role in this. The excitement accompanied with drinking alcohol is another reason why we get the hiccups – which leads us to the next cause.

Excitement and/or stress

Our emotions can have a similar effect on the body and in turn produce a hiccup or two. Both excitement and stress affect our digestive systems in more ways that we are consciously aware of. Sometimes when we get excited, our heart races and breathing speeds up putting additional pressure on the diaphragm. Stress can do the same. That is why it is important to calm down, breath deeply and relax your body when you have a rush of the hiccups. Doing so will help balance your emotional state and alleviate the problem. Furthermore, if you hold your breath for a few seconds then that can certainly help get rid of hiccups as well.

Temperature fluctuations

Ever notice when you walk into the sun that you sometimes get the hiccups? This is a bizarre phenomenon, but some scientists believe that this transition into the sunlight can disrupt the nerve pathway from a your brain to your diaphragm muscle. The effect isn’t because of the “mysterious power” of the sun, but rather we are influenced by the change in temperature when we walk into the warm sunlight. It can also happen in reverse. If you enter a cold air-conditioned apartment, the radical shift in temperature will often have the same effect on your body. The same holds true when you drink something hot then consume something cold -- or visa versa. Remember, a balanced temperature is often the key to preventing a run of the hiccups.


Another dirty culprit for causing hiccups is smoking. This is mainly due to the nicotine found in cigarettes. The influx of nicotine your body receives after smoking affects your muscle tension, stomach secretions, heart rate and blood circulation amongst many other things. These factors, along with the air you breath into your lungs as you smoke, can sometimes cause the diaphragm to contract resulting in a hiccup. Nicotine patches can have similar effects as well.

Video: Signs, symptoms and causes of hiccups

Are there medical conditions associated with what causes hiccups?

Though hiccups are quite common, some people who develop bouts of them more frequently than others may want to pay a visit to the doctor as a precautionary measure. If symptoms persist over 24-hours then it is important professional advice from a physician. Some people who have developed more serious nerve damage, internal infections or metabolic disorders require proper medical treatment.

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