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Hiccups are repeated involuntary spasms of the diaphragm followed by a quick closing of the vocal cords. The spasms occur between normal breaths and make a distinctive sound. The diaphragm is the thin muscle below the lungs and heart that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. It is the main muscle used in breathing. Hiccups may also be called singultus or hiccough.
The exact cause of hiccups is not known. People with cancer may have hiccups for no obvious reason, but they may be related to:
Hiccups may be due to irritation of the nerve that controls the diaphragm. This irritation can be caused by:
Symptoms of hiccups can vary depending on their cause and other factors. They usually happen occasionally for short periods of time. Hiccups that last longer are described according to how long they last:
If symptoms get worse or don’t go away, report them to your doctor or healthcare team without waiting for your next scheduled appointment.
If your hiccups are acute, your doctor will ask some questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. You may need to have the following tests if your hiccups last a long time and don’t have an obvious cause:
Find out more about these tests and procedures.
Once the cause of hiccups is known, your healthcare team can suggest ways to manage them. They may prescribe medicines or place a nasogastric (NG) tube if your hiccups are severe, very distressing or last longer than a few days. An NG tube is a flexible tube passed through the nose, down the throat and esophagus, and into the stomach. The tube is removed as soon as the hiccups stop.
You can also try the following to relieve hiccups:
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) is Canada’s only national, bilingual, toll-free service that offers personalized comprehensive cancer information in over 100 languages.