Hiccups Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


6 Conversations

A man walks into a bar and asks for a glass of water. Instead, the barman pulls out a gun and shoots into the air. The man says 'thank you' and walks out. Why? Because the man had hiccups, and the barman had cured them for him!

What is a hiccup?

Neuroaccoustic Diafragmacontractions, commonly known as hiccups (or hiccoughs) occur when the diaphragm spasms and contracts, causing the person suffering to breathe in suddenly, but their breath is cut off because the gap between the vocal cords (the glottis) closes at the same time as the diaphragm contracts. This causes a characteristic 'hiccup' sound and the spasms can repeat continuously for several minutes.

Why Do People Hiccup?

The most common cause for hiccups is the over-expansion or over-distention of the stomach. Hiccups can also be triggered by gastric illnesses and several other causes.

How Do you Cure a Hiccup?

There are various methods for curing hiccups, although not all of them work for everybody; some people can be cured every time they have an attack using a particular method, while that method may never work on others. Most hiccup cures work by causing the diaphragm muscle to relax, usually by starving it of oxygen. Some methods for curing hiccups include:

  • Holding your breath for as long as possible - This method is self explanatory, although it can be done in either of two ways. The first method is to exhale until your lungs are completely empty. Then hold your breath for as long as you can without passing out. The second method is to inhale as much air as you can, first by inhaling one large breath and then taking 'sips' of air until you can't hold any more. Then hold the air in for as long as you can.

  • Breathing deeply and slowly - Sit down somewhere and try to relax. Then breath in and out slowly and deeply as if trying to go to sleep. After a few minutes the hiccups should go away.

  • Receiving a sudden shock - (as demonstrated at the beginning of the entry). Ask someone to give you a shock (not an electric one!) by creeping up on you or making a sudden movement. This method can cure hiccups instantly, but can be difficult to arrange.

  • Drinking a glass of water backwards - This method is complicated but can work even when other methods fail. Hold a three-quarters-full glass of water so that your head is leaning over it with your chin inside and your upper teeth on the outside wall of the glass. Then tip the bottom of the glass towards you. Then use your lower lip and your tongue to slurp up the water. After a few sips, put down the glass and you should find that the hiccups have gone. Another variant of this method is to sit cross legged on the floor with a glass of water with a drinking straw in it between your legs. Lean forward and try to suck some of the water from the glass. When you sit up again, you should be cured.

  • Drinking through a straw - As well as the 'cross-legged' method, you can also cure hiccups by drinking a fizzy drink through a straw. A variant of this is to drink any type of drink (although steaming hot tea is probably not advisable) through a straw with your fingers in your ears. To do this you must put the glass on a table or get somebody else to hold it, as you need both hands.

  • Drinking water while breathing - This method is a combination of the breathing-deeply method and the drinking-water-backwards method. Get a glass of water and take several sips while at the same time breathing deeply in and out. Continue until hiccups go away.

Sometimes none of these cures work. It has been recorded that some people have had attacks of hiccups which last several years, but in modern times it is possible to cure severe cases by means of a simple surgical procedure, in which the phrenic nerve is crushed, causing the diaphragm to relax.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Edited by

h2g2 Editors


h2g2 Entries

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more