It happens all the time. One second, you’re laughing at your friend’s joke and having a good time. Then, all of a sudden, a hiccup fit begins. Now, everyone is laughing at you barely completing a sentence without the loud noise of a hiccup and jerking your upper body around.
But, are hiccups—also known as singultus—really a laughing matter? Are they serious? What are they? Not many have sat around answering these questions when we ask each other because simply, no one really knows. Hiccups have long been studied, but just recently enough light has been shed on the subject that we finally have some answers.
Okay, this one we will flat out tell the truth: We still have no idea. Some scientists say that hiccups are a trait left over from our evolutionary past. According to Buzzfeed, the thought is that the muscles that make us hiccup were originally intended for our gills. We can keep the study of hiccups in the unsolved mysteries of the human body library.
A hiccup begins with an irritation of the esophagus by an outside stimulus. The most common causes of hiccups include:
The longest hiccup streak of all time clocked in at 68 years, but don’t worry—that’s not the norm. Hiccups usually they last about five minutes. However, prolonged hiccupping (48 hours or more) could be serious. Underlying causes have shown to include ulcers, thyroid issues and—in rare cases—cancers.
There’s no right or wrong way to answer this question. If the root cause of the disturbance is detectable and treatable, then yes, the hiccup response will subside. There are many medications used to relax the muscles and diaphragm that show a response in alleviating hiccup symptoms. As a last resort, phrenic nerve surgery (the nerve that controls the diaphragm) is a possible treatment option.
The rule of thumb is if your hiccups last more than two days or are so severe they are interfering with eating, sleeping or breathing, contact your physician. And of course, if you are coughing up blood, are running a fever or have shortness of breath, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.