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What can hide behind a simple hiccup?

What can hide behind a simple hiccup? Hic! This involuntary burst of sound, which makes you jump and shake your shoulders, is generally innocuous. But if the hiccups persist for more than 48 hours or if the hiccups return at regular intervals, it may reveal the existence of a more severe disorder.

Hiccups result from a spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, immediately followed by the closure of the vocal cords at the level of the larynx.

"This is what pinches the air and produces a noise recognizable among all", explains Dr Laurent Vercueil, neurologist at the Grenoble University Hospital and author of Tickles and other small neurological worries (ed. Belin). The air quickly sucked in by the lungs is indeed blocked. The origin of this strange reflex:anarchic electrical impulses on the vagus nerve, which controls the heartbeat, the intestines and the muscles of the throat, or on the phrenic nerve which innervates the diaphragm and controls breathing.

From temporary hiccups to persistent seizures

Hiccup attacks usually only last a few minutes. There is no shortage of tips to get over the hiccups:

  • drink upside down
  • shock in fear
  • stick out his tongue
  • take a spoonful of sugar and let it melt under your tongue
  • cover your ears while drinking water
  • stop breathing…

It is possible that these methods interrupt the activation of the vagus nerve but, "the hiccups disappear on their own in the vast majority of cases", notes Dr. Vercueil. A hiccup is considered persistent if it lasts more than 48 hours . And it says "refractory " if it lasts more than two months.

The longest hiccup is attributed to the American Charles Osborne who hiccupped for 69 years without interruption. His life was not cut short, however, as he died in 1990 at the age of 96.

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What are the most common causes of hiccups?

"The original purpose of hiccups would be to dislodge food obstructing the esophagus, specifies Laurent Vercueil. By raising the pressure in the thorax, the expulsion of the intruder would be facilitated." However, many temporary hiccups are a way for the body to signal that we have eaten too quickly and in too large quantities. The rapid influx of food is interpreted by the nervous system as a disturbing element, likely to block the descent of the food bolus towards the stomach.

“Alcohol abuse and hiccups also often go hand in hand,” notes Joan Liebmann-Smith, medical sociologist and author of Understand Your Body’s Signals (ed. Marabout). The simultaneous absorption of a hot dish and a cold drink can also trigger this reflex, as can a very spicy meal. Stress or a violent emotion also sometimes cause thunderous hiccups, which cease during sleep. But if the hiccups persist while sleeping, the cause is most certainly physical.

Hiccuping is a warning sign not to be overlooked

Chronic irritation of the vagus nerve or phrenic nerve, causing prolonged hiccups, may be a symptom of lung infection (pneumonia) or inflammation of the lungs (pleurisy), pancreas (pancreatitis) or the membrane that surrounds the heart (pericarditis). Kidney dysfunction can also be the source of recalcitrant hiccups, as can a tumor along the path of one of the two nerves involved in the hiccup reflex arc:throat, esophagus, diaphragm, lungs …

Refractory hiccups sometimes also precede a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), but no needless panic:in this case, it is never the only warning sign. Disturbance of speech, loss of feeling or paralysis of part of the face or one side of the body accompany it.

"Medical causes have also been reported, underlines Dr. Vercueil:hiccups due to anesthetics, drugs against Parkinson's disease or corticosteroids." A third of people on chemotherapy also complain of frequent hiccups.

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