Why do we get hiccups?

Why do we get hiccups?
A hiccup is an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm.

A hiccup is an involuntary action involving a reflex arc. It is a contraction of the diaphragm, which leads to the closure of the vocal chord, exactly 0.25 second after the contraction. It is this that causes us to make the ‘hic’ sound. The contraction may occur only once or may repeat several times per minute; hence, the number of hiccups. The common hiccups are gone with the hour, all by themselves.

In medical vocabulary, a hiccup is known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), or singultus. The term singultus is the Latin term for the act of catching your breath while sobbing.

Most scientists believe that hiccups do not actually serve any purpose in the human body. According to some, hiccups are a malfunction in the nerves that control the breathing muscles and glottis, which could happen when the nerves get irritated or damaged. Whereas, others believe that while it may have been the case once, it is probably no longer true. Hiccups have served their evolutionary need, and are no longer useful.

Another theory is that hiccups may have once helped animals swallow their food. The animals that walk on all fours have to move their food horizontally through their esophagus. The hiccup may have helped to dislodge the food that may have gotten stuck in the esophagus.

Today, hiccups are believed to be caused by various causes, including:

  • Coughing
  • Eating rapidly
  • Feeling intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, excitement, joy or euphoria
  • Drinking carbonated beverages, alcohol, dry breads, and eating some spicy foods
  • Laughing

While, hiccups are rarely serious, medical attention may be required for chronic hiccups, which can last for weeks, months or even years. In some rare cases, hiccups may be an indication of a serious medical problem, such as metabolic diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, electrolyte imbalance, deviated septum, pneumonia, CLD, stroke, multiple sclerosis, tumors, meningitis, encephalitis, traumatic brain injury, laryngitis, cysts, goiter, gastroesophageal reflux, vagus and phrenic nerve involvement, etc. 

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