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Paging Dr. Frischer - Singultus
WRITTEN BY :   Dr. Alan Frischer

When did you last have singultus? We all get it. It can be highly annoying, especially when it comes at the most inconvenient times!
Hiccups (or hiccoughs, same pronunciation) indeed are common, but rarely require medical attention. When the diaphragm becomes irritated, it reacts by spasmodically jerking down, which causes us to involuntarily suck in air. This is almost immediately followed by the closing of the glottis, or vocal cords, in the throat. This clamping of the chords is what causes the “hic” sound. The heart slows down during a hiccup. Most cases go away in minutes, and seldom last more than a few hours. Very rarely, they last more than two days, and earn the name “persistent hiccups.”
Why do we get hiccups? Most actions and reactions of the body have a constructive purpose, such as a cough, which clears the airways; or a sneeze, which removes an irritant. However, the hiccup is thought to have no function or benefit at all. It is so common, though, that it is often seen and heard from fetuses under ultrasound!
Hiccups have a wide variety of causes, including:
*Things we consume, including spicy foods, and carbonated or alcoholic beverages
*Emotions, including stress…and laughter
*Physical disorders, including those of the central nervous system, injury or irritation to the phrenic or vagus nerves, and some toxic or metabolic disorders
*Overeating, or eating very hot or very cold food
*Temperature changes
An Iowan pig farmer named Charles Osborne experienced a case of the hiccups that lasted from 1922 to 1990, giving him the distinction of having the longest documented hiccup attack. It ended at the age of 96…when he died.
Diagnosing the cause of the hiccups really only matters in the case of a prolonged episode. Most go away on their own. Home remedies, which interrupt or override the spasmodic nerve circuitry, are often effective. These cures include eating a spoonful of dry granulated sugar or honey, breathing into a paper bag, bending forward from the waist and drinking water from the opposite side of the glass, pulling on your tongue, swallowing dry bread, holding your breath, drinking a glass of water slowly, acupressure, and of course, being frightened! A few well-known medications can be effective in cases of persistent hiccups, especially Thorazine.
Good health to you all!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.

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Published: October 11, 2012 – Volume 11 – Issue 26



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