When You Should See a Doctor for Long-lasting Hiccups

The hiccups usually seem like a harmless enough health phenomenon...until they won't stop. Podcast host, Dax Shepard, revealed that he struggled with hiccups for 50 hours straight—he even made a video about the event. That raises a huge question. When should you see a doctor if you develop hiccups that won't quit? Here's what you need to know.

Shepard's Story

The 46-year-old Armchair Expert podcast host shared the news in an Instagram post that included a couple of videos about his condition. In one, Shepard can be seen hiccupping while his wife, actress Kristen Bell, asked him questions about his experience. He says that his situation was "funny" for the first 24 hours and then quickly went downhill after he had trouble sleeping due to all of the hiccupping. Shepard said that while the hiccups lasted "all night long," they also "went away for stretches," for an hour here or there.

In the other video of the post, Shepard tried to talk about how he's feeling in between hiccups. But it's clear that he was no longer entertained by his condition: "I think it's safe to say that it has escalated to this, which is a good deal of hiccup-induced puking," he shared.

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Shephard shared the videos only after his hiccups were gone, writing in the caption, "What a ride!!! 50 hours of hiccups. Worry not. We have been hiccup-free for five days today. For anyone who has permanent hiccups, god bless. I don't know if I could have gone a week with those without intervening with a cycle of cyanide."

The comments of Shepard's post were filled with advice on how to get rid of the hiccups, along with other people who said they've dealt with extended cases of them. "I had them for three days straight with only a few pauses. Would wake up in the night to use the bathroom and start to hiccup. Was ready to go to the doctor and they stopped. I was exhausted. I went from it being funny to suicidal thoughts and back to it being funny and ridiculous," one person wrote. "I can totally relate to this. After day two it was a living hell," someone else said.

At least two people suggested that Shepard get checked out by a doctor, just to make sure his hiccups aren't a sign of something more serious or an underlying health condition.

What Causes Hiccups?

There are two things happening in your body when you hiccup, according to the National Library of Medicine. First, you have an involuntary movement of your diaphragm, which is a muscle at the base of your lungs that's mainly used for breathing. The second thing is that your vocal cords are closing quickly, making that signature "hic" sound.

There's a wide range of factors that could prompt hiccups—from eating too quickly to drinking carbonated drinks to feeling excited—per the National Library of Medicine. But hiccups can also start and stop for no obvious reason.

When To See a Doctor?

Most hiccups go away on their own without medical treatment, Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, a comprehensive ear, nose, and throat specialist at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston tells Health. "They're generally self-limited, lasting for half a day or so," he says.

There are a few things you can try at home to get rid of a minor case of hiccups, as Health previously reported, including breathing into a paper bag and drinking a glass of cold water.

But if your hiccups are going on for 36 to 48 hours or more, Dr. Bhattacharyya says it's time to see your doctor. "The real problem is that they can disrupt your daily life," he says. "You also can't sleep." Dr. Bhattacharyya says he's seen an "occasional" patient go through this, and it's not a fun experience.

You'll want to call for help sooner rather than later if your hiccups come with symptoms like abdominal pain, uncontrolled vomiting, or fever, Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Health.

The combined symptoms could be an indicator that something other than just hiccups is going on, potentially signaling an underlying medical condition, like an infection or a metabolic or central nervous system disorder, that needs to be treated.

Treatment for Long-lasting Hiccups

Your doctor will likely give you a physical exam "to make sure there's not a lump or mass in the neck that could be triggering this," Dr. Bhattacharyya says. They'll also listen to your chest and examine your stomach to make sure that it's not bloated and full of gas. "That can cause hiccupping," Dr. Bhattacharyya explains.

Dr. Bhattacharyya says that physical exams "usually don't turn up much." At that point, your doctor may prescribe medication, like the antipsychotic chlorpromazine—which can also tamp down hiccups—or the muscle relaxant baclofen, to be used for a few days. "Usually, that will make the hiccups stop," Dr. Bhattacharyya says. But if the medication doesn't do the trick, Dr. Bhattacharyya says that "further investigation is warranted."

That can include an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube called an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. The doctor will "try to see if there are any physical issues," Dr. Mehdizadeh says. "We usually try to understand why the patient is having hiccups for so long," he adds.

Your doctor may recommend that you get an injection of an anesthetic to block your phrenic nerve—which provides senses to the diaphragm—to stop your hiccups, the Mayo Clinic says.

In more extreme cases, doctors can implant a battery-operated device to give mild electrical stimulation to your vagus nerve, which is a major nerve running from your digestive organs to your brain.

Bottom Line

If you have the hiccups, they're bothering you, and they won't go away, talk to your medical provider ASAP. Your doctor should be able to help.

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