No one likes getting the hiccups, but most bouts of hiccups — the involuntary diaphragm spasms accompanied by a sharp, high-pitched vocal sound, as Reader’s Digest describes — go away after a few minutes and can even be stopped by such simple tricks as swallowing a spoonful of sugar, or breathing a few times into a paper bag.
But what if a case of hiccups can’t be stopped — and goes on for hours, even days? Cases of “intractable hiccups,” which are hiccups that last at least one full month, are more common than previously believed, according to new scientific research published this week in the journal Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. In fact, about 4,000 people are hospitalized in the United States ever year, due to hiccups that refuse to go away.
While the new paper by Stasia Rouse and Matthew Wodziak, neurologists at Loyola University, does not specify how frequently intractable hiccups occur, they do happen “more often than we realize and present to multiple medical disciplines,” the researchers wrote, according to a summary of the journal article from Science Daily.
The longest known case of hiccups, according to a BBC report, afflicted Iowa farmer Charles Osborne, who said that his hiccups began when he attempted to get a large hog onto a scale to weigh the animal before slaughtering it.
That happened in 1922, when Osborne was 25-years-old. His hiccups continued until 1990 — a 68-year hiccuping fit.
Some hiccuping episodes can last two days or more, and those are known as “persistent hiccups,” according to Science Daily, which also reports that hiccups can be ignited by overeating, smoking, spicy foods, or any number of other causes, including emotional triggers such as anxiety and stress. For some reason, men are far more susceptible to intractable, that is, month-long hiccups than women with 91 percent of sufferers being men, and the majority of those men being over 50-years-old.
Unlike common, short-term hiccup episodes, intractable hiccups are usually the result of an underlying medical condition, according to a summary of the study published by Bustle. Because hiccups involve a misfiring of the nerves system, with the brain sending errant signals to the diaphragm muscles, telling them to contract, spinal disease, brain abscesses, and medicine that includes neurotransmitters can set off a severe bout of hiccups, the researchers say.
While there is no known cure for long-term hiccups, the researchers say that medical science offers a variety of treatments, including psychiatric medications that act on the nervous system, calming or blocking the excessive neural misfiring.
“There is a lack of good quality evidence to recommend specific treatment for hiccups,” the researchers say in their paper.