Hiccups (or hiccoughs) are a sudden, involuntary squeezing of the diaphragm, the main breathing muscle under the lungs. This squeezing action sucks air quickly into the lungs, snapping shut a valve (glottis) above the voice-box (larynx). This snapping makes the sound of a hiccup. Hiccups start suddenly, and usually last for only a few minutes. You might hiccup anywhere between 4 to 60 times a minute. Hiccups will usually stop on their own. However, persistent hiccups (lasting for more than 48 hours) are more common in men. Persistent hiccups can be very tiring and upsetting, and can make eating and drinking difficult. They are however rare, and are sometimes caused by an underlying disease.
Normally hiccups do not need medical treatment and they will go away on their own. Medical treatment is needed only for persistent hiccups. In some cases the underlying cause can be identified and treated, in order to stop the hiccups coming back. Medication can be prescribed by your GP if no underlying cause is found. Tranquillisers, such as chlorpromazine and metoclopramide, work by relaxing the diaphragm muscle and the surrounding nerves. Medicines called anti-convulsants, such as phenytoin and valproic acid, can also help to stop the involuntary action of the diaphragm.
Hiccups are mostly caused by irregular food intake which unsettles the Stomach Qi (the stomach's essential energy), or by emotional frustration, which greatly reduces the Liver's essential Qi. If the stomach is exposed to cold, overeating of raw and cold food, or drugs of a cold nature, then the stomach's yang (its cooling, fluid energy) will be retained rather than helped to circulate across the body and moisten it, moreover the Stomach Qi can be caused to move upwards and obstruct the Lung.
According to Chinese Medicine theory acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be prescribed to resolve the retention of food and stagnation of Qi. Both acupuncture and moxibustion (which involves igniting a cone or cylinder of moxa close to the skin) are used for treating cold in the stomach. The treatment is aimed at pacifying the Stomach Qi, producing a downward movement of Qi (the body's essential energy) and preventing hiccups
You can find out more by reading the Regulate Digestion guide.
For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation. Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.