Is it normal for hiccups to hurt?

Hiccups can be a symptom of a heart attack

Adults rarely suffer from it. But when the hiccups come, things get dangerous: If they happen frequently or just don't go away, you should consult a doctor. There can be a serious illness behind the hiccup. Every year 70 to 80 patients who suffer from chronic hiccups end up at the Heidelberg University Clinic. This can even be the result of a heart attack. An expert explains when it becomes dangerous and what you can do about it.

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Hiccup after eating too quickly

"Initially, hiccups are not a disease, but a reflex," explains Dr. Jens Keßler, anesthesiologist at Heidelberg University Hospital. This often occurs in unborn babies and small children. There are many reasons for hiccups: Eating too quickly, alcohol or just plain if one is frightened. "Admittedly, this reflex does not have a meaningful function in adults."

Chronic hiccups are dangerous

A distinction is made between acute and chronic hiccups. Acute hiccups are common. It only lasts for a short time and usually it also remains with a "seizure". A chronic hiccup, on the other hand, lasts at least 48 hours or occurs more frequently within a very short period of time. "In most cases, however, the hiccups last uninterrupted for a long period of time," explains the expert. In this case, people should definitely consult a doctor. Because a persistent hiccup can be an indication of a serious illness.

From heartburn to a heart attack

"Most hiccups suffer from gastric mucosal inflammation or heartburn," reports Keßler. Sore throats or tonsils can also cause hiccups. However, the cause of chronic hiccups is not always as harmless as Keßler reports: "We have already had patients in whom we have identified a heart attack, multiple sclerosis or a tumor as the trigger for the hiccups." Hicksen is never the only symptom a serious illness. For example, it is usually an undetected heart attack that was expressed in the form of chest pain or other typical complaints before the hiccups.

Hiccup nerve goes through half the body

The reason why a heart attack can manifest itself through hiccups is the so-called phrenic nerve. "It runs from the brain to the diaphragm, that is, through half the body of every human being," explains Keßler. “The nerve can be damaged in different places. In this way we can recognize diseases of the organs that the nerve passes by. ”If the cause is, for example, a heart attack, the nerve is so badly damaged at one point on the heart that it triggers chronic hiccups. Therefore, hiccups can also often occur in patients who have had heart surgery.

Competitive sport for the diaphragm

There is no explanation why adults can get acute hiccups. But it is known how the hiccup comes about: “The diaphragm flattens out. This creates a negative pressure in the lungs. This creates the risk of foreign bodies entering the lungs. To prevent this from happening, the glottis is closed. That leads to the hacking noise, ”explains the anesthetist.

Do not underestimate psychological factors

Often there are patients in whom, despite chronic hiccups, no physical illness can be detected. "In some of those affected, the hiccups are psychological," says the expert. So there are also cases in which the patients describe that the hiccups only occur in everyday life, but not on vacation. "It is possible that the person concerned has less psychological stress on vacation," explains the expert, explaining the difference. However, people who suffer from chronic hiccups feel that their quality of life is severely restricted. "Conversely, hiccups can also lead to psychological problems," warns Keßler. It even goes so far that some people become depressed and even think of suicide. That is why it is important to ask your doctor about possible causes.

Men more often affected than women

The majority of patients with chronic hiccups are male. However, there is no explanation as to why this could be. In general, it is difficult to say how many people in Germany are affected. According to the literature, one in 100,000 people is affected. But the reality looks different. “We have 100,000 inhabitants in Heidelberg. And there are many more people we treat for chronic hiccups, ”reports Keßler. Since hiccups, unlike tuberculosis, are not a reportable disease, it is difficult to determine a specific number.

Home remedies help with acute hiccups

There are many different tips on the quickest way to get rid of hiccups. Home remedies in particular have proven their worth, says Keßler: “Holding your breath and drinking cold water can really help. But distraction, which is especially common with children, is very helpful. ”A popular question is, for example,“ What did you eat last Tuesday? ”. It is important to trigger a counter-stimulus to the hiccup stimulus. “If you suffer from vomiting due to an inflammation of the stomach lining anyway, the vomiting stimulus is the most effective thing you can do to counteract the hiccups.” With chronic hiccups you can only treat the symptoms. The flattening of the diaphragm compresses the stomach and can lead to inflammation of the esophagus. “That's why we always first prescribe an anti-gastric drug,” says Keßler. As a final measure, the hiccups nerve is blocked. "To do this, a drug is injected at the point of origin that stops the stimulus," explains Keßler. To locate the nerve, the anesthetist, almost the only one in the world, uses an ultrasound.

Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.