How to cure the hiccups from heck

From guest-blogger Dean:

If you go to hell you might come back with hiccups, assuming you return. Also if you get surgery. The following is my saga of hiccup survival. If you just want the recipe for stopping hiccups, read the last paragraph.

As Zina’s regular readers know, I recently had outpatient foot surgery. I planned with the podiatrist-surgeon to use “MAC” anesthesia, but due to some kind of minor breathing complication during the surgery, the anesthesiologist decided to switch me to general anesthesia, which required snaking a breathing tube down my throat. After the surgery as I was waking up, I had hiccups. They went away without incident. Zina took me home. That night they came back. I tried the couple hiccup-stopping tricks I knew. They didn’t work. The hiccups continued into the night. I couldn’t sleep. They got worse. I was getting desperate. I hobbled downstairs to the computer. I googled “stopping hiccups,” which produced exhaustive lists of remedies. I tried several remedies. Basically, each worked one time only, for about 5 minutes. After these several attempts I finally found one that worked well enough for me to get some sleep. It involved inflating your lungs and making alternating gulps and air-suckings.

Early the next day the hiccups came back. I called the community hospital and got my erstwhile anesthesiologist on the phone. I told him (in between my hiccups) that I had a terrible case of hiccups and asked if this could have something to do with the anesthesia. He said no unequivocally–end of conversation. A 10-second google search then reveals to me that, yes, hiccups can be a side effect of general anesthesia, though it is uncommon. I discovered that irritation of the vagus nerve, which runs down next to your esophagus and controls your diaphragm, can cause serious hiccups. On reflection I realized that my throat had been quite sore ever since the surgery, and so it made sense that my vagus nerve was as irritated as I now was at my anesthesiologist.

My hiccups were such that even when I got them to go away, if I laughed or coughed, or a butterfly flapped its wings in Asia, they came back. As Zina mentioned earlier, I could totally relate to the man featured on a Simpsons episode who has had the hiccups for 40 years and says, “*HIC* kill me *HIC* kill me *HIC* …” I was hopeful that there might be some kind of anti-hiccuping drug, but from what I read online apparently all they can do medication-wise is pump you full of anti-psychotics, strong sedatives, etc.

Dean’s Hiccup-Fu Combo Move:

After some experimentation, I came up with a remedy that worked pretty well for me, well enough to allow me to survive until my vagus nerve calmed down (about 3 days after the surgery). It’s a combination of others’ published remedies. The basis of nearly all remedies is to physically distract or counter-stimulate your body’s attention away from the hiccups. For instance, if you are asphyxiating, your brain might decide that hiccuping is not an essential function anymore, and it stops (the hiccuping). Here goes:

  1. Breathe in deeply, inflating your lungs.
  2. Close your mouth and constrict your throat (glottis) to hold your breath (I’ve never previously had a legitimate occasion to say “Shut your glottis!”)
  3. Each time a hiccup comes, follow it with a “sip” of air (filling your lungs even more) and a swallow of the saliva that is in your mouth. Keep holding your breath.
  4. As you continue doing this the hiccups should weaken and stop. If you feel your lungs really are as full as they are going to get and you can’t swallow any more, you can just hold your breath for several seconds longer. If you start to feel that panicky suffocating feeling, know that you are sending the right signal to your brain that hiccups are not necessary at this point. Don’t hold your breath so long that you pass out, however.
  5. If steps 1-4 are not strong enough, you can magnify the effect a bit by stretching your arms high above your head while holding your breath, which stretches out your diaphragm. This could also be done while lying on your back.
  6. I had to repeat these steps many times throughout the day as aggressive episodes of hiccups recurred. I generally was able to sleep without hiccups thanks to this technique.
This entry was posted in But Dean is the funniest, Health or lack thereof, Tutorial and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to How to cure the hiccups from heck

  1. uohaa says:

    Great blog !
    I look forward to returning to your blog, and learning more from you !

  2. Jennette says:

    Whoa…! Cool post. I always insist to Adam that if one gets the hiccups, that they will return at least 3 times in the 24 hours to follow. He doesn’t believe me. Any substance to this on your extensive hiccupping research? Glad to hear that things are better for you now.

  3. zstitches says:

    From Dean: Thanks. On my worst day I had hiccups return as many as a couple dozen times. If you like you can average my number with those from a few other hiccuping anecdotes you have collected and you are bound to get a frequency of at least 3 per day. Therefore, Adam is wrong. Aren’t medical statistics wonderful!

  4. Alex says:

    A less drastic variation of this (by means of less drastic necessity) – just inhaling deeply and then holding my breath, and slowly exerting to get a bit more air in (so, stretching the inhale) – has often worked for me.

  5. Alex says:

    p.s. it is apparent that strongly opinionated professionals should fear the internets.

  6. Robby says:

    I have found that it works to just control my diaphragm, har, har, har.

    I liked the story. 🙂

  7. danithew says:

    I can’t bring myself to read directions, never mind follow them. Plus, I don’t have the hiccups. So this post does me no good at all. So there.

  8. danithew says:

    Oh, and you completely mis-spelled “hell” in the post title.

  9. Chuck says:

    This has worked for me for years. Simply take a teaspoon and place it round-side down against your tongue way in the back, so that you trigger the “gag reflex”. You’ll need to actually gag yourself – maybe a couple times. Done. Works like a charm…even when I’m a bit inebriated. Not making this up. Tried all of the other nonsense…not pleasant, but it works – at least for me.

  10. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the info on stopping the hiccups. My son had general anesthesia yesterday for his knee surgery and is now hiccupping away….off to make him shut his glottis…but then again…is that a pain detractor…if I stop the hiccups will he think about the pain in his knee….decisions decisions

  11. Don says:

    Had arthroscopic surgery of right knee 5/13/10. Post op day one developed post operative refractory hiccups (according to the web). Thought they were minor due to irritation caused by breathing tube. Didn’t know they were as complicated as Web MD states. Tried the technique described by Dean. Hiccups have subsided for the first time in two days. Hope it lasts. If not I’ll repeat the technique. Thanks muchly Dean.

    • zstitches says:

      He’ll be glad to have been helpful.

    • zstitches says:

      (And we still can’t believe his anesthesiologist insisted he’d never known anyone to have this problem. I think he just never saw his patients other than immediately post-op.)

  12. James says:

    I just had the identical surgery and hiccup problem as the guy below. I was loosing my mind do to these insane hiccups!!! Your trick worked….but I still feel a weird feeling in my chest / throat that hurts and feels like pressure….almost like an internal hiccup….this sucks…I thought my knee would be the difficult part of recovery not my throat! I don’t remember signing a disclosure for this….
    “Had arthroscopic surgery of right knee 5/13/10. Post op day one developed post operative refractory hiccups (according to the web). Thought they were minor due to irritation caused by breathing tube. Didn’t know they were as complicated as Web MD states. Tried the technique described by Dean. Hiccups have subsided for the first time in two days. Hope it lasts. If not I’ll repeat the technique. Thanks muchly Dean.”

  13. The Figster says:

    I have also had an arthroscopic surgery yesterday and every time I eat something I get the hiccups, so I have returned to an old cure. Take a glass of water, and a straw (unless you have long fingers and are reasonably dextrous), block your nose and your ears and drink the glass of water. This cure has never failed me in 30 years.

    For those of you will to try I find that blocking my ears with my thumbs, blocking my nose with my forefingers and using the remaining fingers to hold the glass works fine for me. Cheers,

    The Figster

    • zstitches says:

      Interesting. I’ll have to try that next time I have hiccups. I get hiccups every time I eat french fries if I forget to take a sip of water after the first couple bites.

  14. chris says:

    I’ve got general anesthesia and subsequent hiccups. Worst and longest ever. Not just one, but series of 3-4 diaphragm contractions one after another. I’m was real desperate. Then I googled ‘general anesthesia hiccups’, found this blog, followed the instructions (with arms streched behind neck) and it just stop. Thanks!!!

  15. David says:

    I had surgery yesterday morning for cubital tunnel syndrome and was given general anesthesia (never had surgery before, and thus never been under anesthesia before) and about an hour and a half after I was fully awake the hiccups started. It’s a day later and they still come and go. Holding my breathe seems to work pretty well to stop them for a while thank god. I think your right about it being caused by irritation from the breathing tube, because when I drink something they start up again. I know they’ll go away eventually, but it’s nice toknow I’m not the only one who has had this problem after general anesthesia. (oh, and I had surgery on my right arm, and I’m right handed so I typed this with my left hand…not to shabby eh?)

  16. levotb says:

    Hi Dean, 4 years later (from your original post), I’m writing to thank youa SO much for the post and steps you found in stopping hiccups after surgery. I just had lower back disc surgery 24 hours ago and the hiccups hit me bad this morning. I’m sensitive to medication and it could be the pain med in the fluid they gave me or it could be a reaction to the anesthesia leaving my system. I just spoke with my nurse at Stanford Spine Clinic and she tells me she’s never heard of this from back surgery patients. Whatever they gave me to put me out they also added anti-nausea medication, so I was pretty full of many things. But hiccups are certainly more acceptable than fever (which sometimes occurs) or weakness in the legs and nausea! Anyway, I tried your steps. Holding my breath didn’t do it but the deep breaths, swallowing saliva and raising my arms seemed to stop it. Much thanks! I’ll be employing these methods again when they come back!

  17. room335 says:

    I had laser treatment to remove a kidney stone yesterday and now have had numerous hiccup episodes. Nothing seems to work for me. Holding my breath doesn’t work. Drinking a glass of ice cold water – nothing. Drinking from a glass of ice water with my head upside down so that you are drinking from the roof of your mouth hasn’t worked- no. Just tried the gagging routine a few times and then holding my breath, nothing. Eating a hot meal seemed to calm them for a short while but now they are back.

    I’m glad you all shared your stories though, I was wondering why my throat was so sore this morning, Never even thought of the breathing tube. Now to continue my search

  18. Cathy says:

    My husband had an emergency appendectomy yesterday and has had crazy series of hiccups all day today. I googled post op hiccups and there was your post several years ago! Thanks so much for posting! He tried what you recommended and they have gone away for the first time all day, which is a relief as all that hiccuping really didn’t feel so hot to his very sore stomach!

  19. Steven says:

    Sinus Surgery almost 2 weeks ago. chronic Hiccups started 5 days ago. Googled and found that these Hiccups are “related to post opioids being used”. Knowing full well that I am not a heroine addict, I’m guessing that after surgery, and the ensuing 4 days on OxyContin, that this was indeed the cause of these persistent hiccups.
    First found that slowly swallowing a tablespoon or two of peanut butter worked well. After putting away a jar of peanut butter every other day, discovered on my own the “gag reflex” trick. Had to excuse myself a couple of times last night out at a party, so I counld stroll outside and gag……pleasant……
    Hiccups actually woke me up early this morning…..thus further googling commenced……
    Found this Inhale and “sip” further air trick worked splendidly! Hoping to utilize this as the nasty business of these hiccups will undoubtedly return……..with this trick in hand now, I kmow that these Hiccups are not to be fatal….. :^)
    Many Thanks!!!

  20. June says:

    Thank goodness for you writing this! Much needed understanding it can really happen without docs thinking your batty

  21. Jared says:

    Oh my God, thank you! I just had a procedure, had the tube, have the sore throat (it was yesterday), and the hiccoughs were keeping me up AND causing incredible pain (kidney stuff). I just tried your trick, and I’m almost crying, as this is the first time I’ve had 5 minutes “to myself”-without the constant companion of what I call “my throat spasms”, in 30 hours! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had two sessions, but they’re gone, and I have a tool for the future. Sounds silly to be so grateful, but YOU know where I’m coming from!

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