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Causes of Hiccups

Hiccups are the result of involuntary diaphragmatic contractions. The diaphragm is the muscle separating the thoracic (chest) cavity from the abdomen, and is the primary muscle of respiration. The hiccup sound is heard when the vocal cords quickly close with diaphragmatic contractions. Hiccups can be fleeting, lasting only a few minutes or chronic, lasting for years, depending upon the causes, states MedlinePlus, the medical information site of the National Institutes of Health. Although usually innocuous, prolonged hiccuping episodes can be related to important medical conditions and warrants a comprehensive medical evaluation. Treatment of hiccups depend upon the underlying cause.


Laughing for extended periods of time or hard laughing is a frequent cause of temporary hiccups. When a sudden burst of air is deeply inhaled, as occurs with laughing, it rushes briskly into the epiglottis, which stimulates diaphragmatic nerves, eliciting hiccups, explains Hiccuping after laughing is common and is not considering to be medically significant.


The growing fetus places extreme pressure upon the diaphragm, contributing to diaphragmatic nerve irritation. Because this phenomenon is so common, women who are pregnant can expect to experience hiccuping throughout their pregnancies. Although benign, when gestational hiccuping interferes with proper respiratory function or causes shortness of breath, a medical evaluation should be considered.

Excess Food Intake

Eating too much food is a common trigger of hiccups. When the stomach becomes distended, it causes pressure on the diaphragm, causing contractions and resultant hiccups, states health care professionals at Better Health Channel, a medical information website affiliated with the Government of Australia. Although not considered serious, experiencing hiccups after every meal warrants further evaluation.


Psychological factors and emotional stress can promote hiccups, explains the Better Health Channel. Stressful conditions and anxiety contributes to the release of certain hormones that aggravate the diaphragm, causing spasms and subsequent hiccups. In addition, persistent stress can cause chronic air swallowing, triggering an episode. When anxiety-induced hiccups become bothersome, a physician can recommend ways to help manage stress.

Medical Conditions

Hiccups lasting in excess of two days might be related to medical conditions that involve diaphragmatic nerves. These nerves, also known as the vagus nerve and the phrenic nerve, can experience irritation and cause extended periods of hiccups, according to the Mayo Clinic. Medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and meningitis can cause hiccups. In addition, certain cerebral conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injuries can affect the "hiccup center" portion of the brain, producing hiccups, explains MedlinePlus.