Long-term hiccups have been a plague since youth

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November 21, 2019 - 9:55 AM

Dear Dr. Roach: My friend has been struggling with almost never-ending hiccups since she was young. There seems to be no apparent trigger for them. They happen all hours of the day and even wake her up in the middle of the night. She will hiccup until it starts to become very painful for her, and she cannot make them stop. She’s tried every remedy she can find — drinking water, holding her breath and slowly letting out, even doing handstands, just to name a few.

She lives in a rural community with no doctor who can figure it out. They also don’t seem to take seriously how disruptive and painful it is. They tell her there’s nothing they can do. Do you have any suggestions? What kind of specialist treats this problem? — N.E.

Answer: Persistent hiccups can be a severe problem. The hiccup (“singultus,” in Latin) is a spasm of the diaphragm, the main muscle of breathing, and an ancient neurological reflex. There are numerous case reports of people having hiccups lasting for decades, despite exhaustive searches for cures. The effect on a person’s quality of life can be devastating.

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