This One Thing May Mean Your Hiccups Aren't Harmless, Experts Warn

If you notice this happening, you should talk to your doctor.

Hiccups can be annoying, but we often write them off as something harmless. They're involuntary contractions of the diaphragm followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords—which is what produces the well-known hiccup sound, according to the Mayo Clinic. We usually don't know what exactly triggers our bouts of hiccups, which can be brought on by a little too much soda, alcoholic beverages, or even just sudden excitement. In these instances, they typically don't last for long. However, not all hiccups are harmless, and they could be a symptom of something more serious, especially if they don't go away. Read on to find out when your hiccups mean you should see a doctor.

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If your hiccups last more than 48 hours, they could be a symptom of a serious problem.

coughing, hiccupping, choking
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While occasional hiccups are nothing to worry about, hiccups that last for days often mean something is wrong. As Timothy Pfanner, MD, a former assistant professor of medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, explained to ScienceDaily, there are two types of prolonged hiccups: persistent or intractable. Persistent hiccups are any hiccups that last more than 48 hours but less than 30 days, while intractable hiccups last more than 30 days. Pfanner said that when these long-term hiccups arise, it is usually time for doctors to "start worrying that something more serious is going on internally."

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Long-term hiccups could be a sign of a few major health concerns.

Close up of unrecognizable female doctor palpating neck of senior patient while examining him during consultation in clinic
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It's important not to ignore prolonged hiccups because they have been associated with several major health concerns. A 2018 report published in the Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports journal explained that the "production of hiccups is a complex mechanism which involves multiple neurotransmitters and anatomical structure within the central and peripheral nervous system," which means that they can be caused by a number of underlying conditions throughout the body.

According to Pfanner, persistent or intractable hiccups could point to inflammation around the heart, but they are also possible signs of a pending heart attack or stroke. And these cardiovascular events are not the only major health concerns at play. According to Pfanner, intractable hiccups have also been linked to certain cancers or tumors.

"Sometimes we see intractable hiccups in patients diagnosed with cancers of the brain, lymph nodes or stomach cancer," he explained. "This may also point to a tumor in the neck or goiter." Unfortunately, Pfanner says it's "still unclear why many of these incidents occur."

More minor health problems could also explain your prolonged hiccups.

man suffering from acid reflux or GERD
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Don't start panicking as soon as your hiccups reach the three-day mark, however. Prolonged hiccups could have underlying causes that are less severe than cancer or stroke. According to WebMD, intractable hiccups can also be triggered by spicy foods and hot liquids—meaning your long-term hiccups could just be a sign that you have acid reflux disease, Pfanner said. The Mayo Clinic also says that stress can result in long-term hiccups. This is why "it's always important to discuss your symptoms with your physician," Pfanner told ScienceDaily.

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Prolonged hiccups can also result in their own health complications.

Happy mature doctor talking to senior female patient while being in a home visit.
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Even if there is not a serious underlying medical concern causing your prolonged hiccups, you still need to discuss the problem with your doctor. Prolonged hiccups come with their own health complications. According to Medical News Today, prolonged hiccups can make it difficult to eat properly, which could result in weight loss or dehydration. And if they occur during the night, they may make it hard for you to stay or fall asleep. This could result in insomnia or fatigue. Other possible complications include communication problems, depression, and delayed wound healing.

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Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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