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Long-Term and Intractable Hiccups

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Hiccups are an ordinary inconvenience for most people, but they also can be a side effect of medication and a rare sign of a medical problem. A hiccup is due to an involuntary contraction of your diaphragm, followed by your vocal cords suddenly closing.

Ordinary short-term hiccups are most often caused by overeating, excessive alcohol intake, stress or excitement, or carbonated beverages. Long-lasting hiccups (lasting more than 48 hours) are sometimes caused by irritation or damage to the vagus or phrenic nerves. Irritation or damage to the vagus or phrenic nerves innervates the diaphragm.

Long term hiccups can also be due to medication/drug use or metabolic problems like kidney failure or gastrointestinal issues. Men are more likely to develop long-term hiccups than women.

Hiccups are considered intractable when they last for more than a month. This can be a serious problem because it is difficult to eat, breathe and sleep, thus causing malnutrition, slowed post-surgical healing and general distress. Intractable hiccups have been known to occur after traumatic brain injury as well as other medical or neurological issues. The cause is not always known.

Medications do not commonly cause hiccups, but there are many classes of drugs that have been implicated. Chemotherapy drugs, general anesthesia, steroids, sedatives, barbiturates, opiates, and anti-depressants are a few. This can be difficult to sort out because many of the medications are taken for health problems that can also cause hiccups.

Long-term hiccups are sometimes treated with medications, including antipsychotic meds such as haloperidol, olanzapine, or chlorpromazine, metoclopramide (an anti-nausea drug), or muscle relaxers such as liorasel. If drugs do not relieve the hiccups, sometimes a nerve block can be done. This involves injecting anesthesia to block the phrenic nerve. If the hiccups are severe and intractable, a nerve stimulator can be inserted. This is placed under the skin like a pacemaker, and delivers mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve.

Hiccups can be irritating but once they last for more than 48 hours, they can be a medical problem. Visit a health care provider to rule out metabolic and neurologic causes. Intractable hiccups are rare, but it is important to see a provider to have them treated in a timely manner to avoid complications.


Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences

Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

My husband has had hiccups for 2 and half years. He has been in hospital 7 times due to low potassium because the only way to stop them is by making himself sick, although it only stops them for a short while sometimes coming back after a minute. He says he has to make himself sick because the hiccups gives him pain and sometimes catches his breath. He is on countless medication all of which do nothing for him he is awaiting an appointment for an MRI scan. After 2 and half years of putting up with it and nobody seeming to do anything to cure him he is now very very depressed, has lost loads of weigth and has vitually given up on eating as he says it only comes up anyway.

May 3, 2010 - 1:37pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Hi, Im so sorry about your husband!!! Did you find anything that worked I am having the exact same problem with my boyfriend but its been 3 years.!!!! He has tried all the medications and cold spoon, making him self sick everything. he is going to try accupunture now.

October 26, 2015 - 10:11am
(reply to Anonymous)

I'm so sorry about your husband!

What type of hospital is he in? Are you near a big city? If you haven't already, I suggest you go to a big teaching hospital with a large neurology department. This is a difficult issue, but as I said in my article there are things that can be done.

Good luck and please let us know how he does, will you?

May 4, 2010 - 6:07am
EmpowHER Guest

MY dad had hiccups for almost one month and the various attempted drugs treaments had much worse side effects than the annoyance of the hiccups. The intervention with supposed antispasmotic aromatherapy oils worked very quickly and only needed repeating a few times before the hicupps stopped completely.
This is the oil blend that worked.

April 15, 2010 - 10:03am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

My good friend is going on a year with hiccups and he is miserable. I am looking for anything to help. He has been to the hospital 17 times and going again tonight. Its the only place he can't get some relief. They give him DILAUDID that is the only thing that works if they give him a high enough dose, which is hard to get the doctors to do sometimes. When clicking on your link there were quite a few oils to choose from. Was it a combination of all the oils or a particular one? Thanks I am trying anything to help him.

May 23, 2013 - 8:27pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.