Medical Myths: A shock will cure someone of hiccups

Dr Max Pemberton

Boo! As fun as it might be, it turns out that giving someone a shock does nothing to help cure their hiccups. Here's medical myth buster extraordinaire Dr Max Pemberton to explain why. 

Where did the myth come from?

Hiccups occur when the diaphragm—a large sheet of muscle that sits at the bottom of the lungs between the chest and the abdomen—goes into a spasm.

This causes air to rush into the lungs and the vocal cords to close quickly, resulting in the "hic" sound. 

 

What's the truth?

hiccup medical myth

"Shocking" someone out of hiccups is a nice idea, but is unlikely to work. However, there are plenty of techniques that have been shown to stop hiccups effectively. Most of them involve one of two mechanisms—either increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the blood or stimulating the vagus nerve, which controls the diaphragm.

Breathing into a paper bag, for example, increases the level of carbon dioxide in the blood temporarily, as does holding your breath. It's thought that this makes the brain concentrate on the rising carbon-dioxide levels, rather than hiccups.

Drinking a glass of water upside down requires you to hold your breath and also has the additional benefit of stimulating the vagus nerve, as does tickling the roof of your mouth.

 

So, there's nothing to worry about?

There have been some reported cases of hiccups going on for weeks, months and even years. But these are very rare.

For the vast majority, a bout of hiccups lasts no more than five minutes and they will go away on their own—no shock required.
 

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