8 Things Your Hiccups Are Trying to Say About Your Health
They’re not just annoying—hiccups can also be warning signs of other problems.
What causes hiccups?
Hiccups, which occur when the diaphragm and respiratory organs encounter an abrupt, involuntary spasm, happen to everyone on occasion. “Anything that causes your stomach to become distended can cause hiccups,” says gastroenterologist Timothy Pfanner, MD, now-retired assistant professor of internal medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in College Station, TX. Usually, a bout of hiccups lasts for a brief period and then goes away on its own. However, Dr. Pfanner warns that when hiccups are longer lasting or out of the ordinary from what you typically experience, more serious health issues might be at hand.
You have acid reflux disease
Telltale signs of acid reflux disease include heartburn, the regurgitation of a bitter-tasting acid, and nausea. Interestingly, hiccups that don’t let up are also a symptom of GERD, short for gastroesophageal reflux disease. If they persist, check with your doctor to see if you have acid reflux disease, which can be disruptive to your lifestyle and of course, your stomach and esophageal health.
You’re really stressed out
Hiccups may be warning you that you need to take some time out for yourself. The Mayo Clinic lists emotional stress as one of the many causes of hiccups, so if you’ve been noticing hiccups accompanying your elevated stress levels, consider taking steps to restore your inner peace such as meditation, exercise, or taking a vacation. Check out these other things you never knew about hiccups.
Hiccups could be a sign of cancer
Hiccups could indicate the presence of some types of cancer, including esophageal, colon, lung, pancreatic, liver, and renal cancers, as well as leukemias and lymphomas, according to a 2018 article published in Oncology Times. Some patients experience persistent hiccuping (lasting for more than 48 hours), while other experience what’s known as intractable hiccuping (greater than 2 months).
Hiccups could be a pneumonia clue
Hiccups that persist may signal something more serious. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, chronic hiccups could be an indication of pleurisy—inflammation of tissue surrounding the lungs—or pneumonia, among other conditions. (If it’s pneumonia, you’ll likely experience other symptoms such as chest pain, chills, fever, and perhaps shortness of breath.) Your doctor will likely give you a chest X-ray to determine if you do indeed have pneumonia. Make sure you know these easy tricks to get rid of hiccups fast.
Hiccups could indicate you have an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system
One of the symptoms of a rare condition known as neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD)—sometimes mistaken for multiple sclerosis—are persistent hiccups. Episodes of vomiting, visual loss, and nausea are also symptoms of this inflammatory disease of the central nervous system which primarily primarily affects the optic nerves and spinal cord. No need to jump to serious health conclusions with every new symptom you observe, but it doesn’t hurt to speak to a medical professional about your hiccups, especially if you’re also experiencing other NMOSD symptoms.
Hiccups could be part of early stroke symptoms
A national survey released in 2015 by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that most women did not know that hiccups could be an indication of a stroke. Of the 1,000 women questioned, only 11 percent were aware that in addition to typical stroke symptoms, hiccups coupled with atypical chest pain are an early warning sign of a stroke in women. In fact, the National Stroke Association lists hiccups along with nausea, confusion, and general weakness as some of the stroke symptoms that are unique to females. Check out more surprising reasons you have the hiccups.
Hiccups could mean you’re having a heart attack
If you’ve had hiccups that haven’t gone away for a few days, there’s a slim chance you could be having a heart attack. Josh Davenport, MD, an emergency medicine physician with San Leandro Medical Center in San Leandro, CA, recalls the story of a 68-year-old man who was hiccuping for four straight days. Complications related to his diabetes, smoking habit, and the possibility of cancer were ruled out. Dr. Davenport then ordered an electrocardiogram for the man, drawing on a former case in which there was a correlation between hiccups and a heart attack. The results indicated that the man was indeed having a heart attack even though he wasn’t exhibiting typical heart attack signs such as sweating, weakness, or chest pain. However, just as is the case with hiccups being a possible symptom of certain cancers, Dr. Davenport warns that hiccups as a heart attack sign are possible, but very rare.
Hiccups could mean that your kidney function is worsening
If you have chronic kidney disease and start having frequent hiccups, that could be an indication that your kidney is deteriorating even further. Hiccups, along with symptoms like bone pain, abnormal breath odor, and muscle twitching are a few signs of such worsening—transcending earlier symptoms of chronic kidney disease such as headaches, fatigue, and appetite loss. Since the kidneys are responsible for the removal of waste and excess water in the body, its ability to work effectively is essential. Hiccups in conjunction with these other symptoms could indicate that your kidney is in serious trouble; options such as dialysis may be necessary. Don’t miss these things you’ve always wondered about your other bodily functions.
- Timothy Pfanner, MD, now-retired assistant professor of internal medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in College Station, TX
- Mayo Clinic: “Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)”
- Mayo Clinic: “Hiccups”
- Oncology Times: “Treatment of Hiccups in Patients With Cancer”
- National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Hiccups, chronic”
- The American Journal of Medicine: “Hiccups as Herald: Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder”
- “Survey Finds That Most Women Do Not Know Female-Specific Signs, Symptoms Of Stroke” The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- National Stroke Association: “Women and Stroke”
- Josh Davenport, MD, an emergency medicine physician with San Leandro Medical Center in San Leandro, CA