Why do we Hiccup?

My freshman year college roommate, Sara, has chronic hiccups.  I am not exaggerating, she hiccups probably an average of once every five minutes.  She is one of my best friends, and I have grown fairly immune to her hiccups.  It is entertaining when we meet new people or are in a class together and she hiccups loudly in the middle of a lecture or during an exam.  One time she was actually asked to leave an exam because the professor thought she was distracting the other students.  So naturally I became fascinated with why this happens.  When you have experienced the hiccups, did someone tell you to jump on one foot while patting you stomach and rubbing your head to?  Or do some other ridiculous task?  This is an old wives tale.  Curious to find the truth, I did extensive research on hiccups: why they happen and where they came from.

  According to The Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, before we breathe in air normally, a series of muscles in our chest and throat, including our diaphragms, contract to bring air into our bodies.  The most common form of hiccups comes from drinking or eating too fast.  Our stomach is directly below our diaphragm, so when the stomach is affected by eating or drinking too fast, the diaphragm will contract, causing a rapid inhale, and the resulting hiccup.  There are several theories as to why our body does this.  The one I find most interesting is the Phylogenetic Hypothesis which you can read more about the basics of here.  In summary, the Phylogenetic Hypothesis proposes that hiccuping can be traced back to our evolutionary roots.  For animals that are on all fours, swallowing food is more difficult because unlike us, they do not have gravity working in their favor.  Hiccups prevented animals from choking.  Part of the theory is that hiccups were a product of past gill-breathing species in the process of developing lungs to inhale air.  The best way to rid yourself of the hiccups, I found out, is to breathe through a paper bag, forcing more air into your lungs and calming the spasm in your diaphragm.  Breathe easy!

Image: http://www.buzzle.com/images/health/hiccup-causes.jpg


First off, I want to thank you for doing a blog post on this! Unlike your friend, I don't hiccup every five minutes, but I do get the hiccups quite often, most of the time it's because I eat way too fast. I have always been so interested in how or why hiccups start. I have tried so many different ways to get rid of them and I never know which way is the most effective. Maybe I'll have to try breathing through a bag next time!

It's funny that you mentioned how we've all been told very similar techniques to use to get rid of hiccups, and yet none of them work. A paper bag... Who would have thought? It's just like we were talking about in class the other day - if the mass population says it's true, we tend to believe it - even without scientific evidence. Additionally, I thought it was interesting how you said that animals hiccuped to prevent them from choking; I never knew that!

Very interesting blog post! I remember a few years ago I was watching the Today Show, and there was a segment about a girl that could not stop hiccuping repeatedly, but she started randomly in class. You can watch the video here:


They talk about the possible reasons for it.

I've always been interested in why I get hiccups, so thanks for this great post! I always hold my breath when I get hiccups ... No wonder that never worked. Next tine I will take this advice. I also noticed my dog gets hiccups quite often, but now I see that it is preventing her from choking.

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