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What Causes Hiccups?

Updated on March 30, 2012
How do you show a photo of someone hiccuping? So I thought I'd post some eye candy instead :D
How do you show a photo of someone hiccuping? So I thought I'd post some eye candy instead :D | Source

Caused by a spasm of the diaphragm, the large powerful muscle situated at the base of the chest cavity, a hiccup (or hiccough) is an abrupt, involuntary intake of air. The diaphragm contracts and relaxes as an aid to breathing; the contractions are usually gentle and rhythmic but irritations of organs near the diaphragm or the effects of certain diseases may cause a violent contraction.

The violent spasm draws air into the lungs by way of the larynx (voice-box).

The epiglottis, a movable flap of tissue that prevents the entry of food into the air passages, closes over the larynx when the diaphragm suddenly contracts. The air that is pulled into the larynx by the contraction forcibly strikes the epiglottis, causing vibration of the vocal cords. The resulting sound is the 'hic' of the hiccup.

The spasm causing hiccups may occur only several times a minute or as often as two or three times a second. The attack may be of only a few minutes' duration or may continue for several hours. In rare cases, it may last for several days and, if unrelieved, can actually cause death by exhaustion.

The medical term for a hiccup is "synchronous diaphragmatic flutter".

Various traditional remedies for hiccups include breathing deeply, holding one's breath, drinking a glass of water without breathing, jumping from a height or receiving a sudden shock. Each remedy has its adherents and all are probably equally valid. The aim of any cure must be to remove the source of irritation and then calm the contractions of the diaphragm. Though a normal bout of hiccups can usually end without intervention.

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