Hiccups

Hiccups happen when the diaphragm (the main muscle used in breathing) suddenly contracts between normal breaths. Hiccups can be caused by irritation of the nerve that controls the diaphragm, certain drugs, problems in the brain, problems in the esophagus (the swallowing tube that goes from the throat to the stomach), pressure on the stomach, and other conditions. Hiccups that last a long time can be serious. They can interfere with eating, sleeping, and breathing, and lead to exhaustion. There’s not a lot of research on managing hiccups, but here are some of the things people have found useful.

What the patient can do

  • Breathe slowly and deeply into a paper bag for 10 breaths at a time.
  • Drink water slowly.
  • Hold a teaspoon of sugar in your mouth and then swallow.
  • Avoid forcing yourself to eat.

What caregivers can do

  • Watch the patient to be sure that they’re able to drink enough liquids.
  • If medicine is given for hiccups, watch for dizziness. The patient may need help getting up or walking.

Call the cancer team if the patient:

  • Has trouble breathing
  • Develops a puffy or bloated stomach
  • Has hiccups that last for more than a day

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015

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