Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Hiccups
Name: t-man
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1993

I have often wondered why people hiccup. What is the scientific reason behind this? I know it comes from random muscle contractions in the abdomen but why is it random, and why does it occur in the first place? Is there any fool-proof way to get rid of them? I have heard that eating a tablespoon of pure sugar straight works, and drinking from a cup backwards, and many other ways.

Hiccups have baffled researchers for the longest time! Only recently have we begun to form more concrete explanations for this reflex. Why do we hiccup? Essentially, it is to prevent us from ingestion any food or drink during the hiccup session. Hiccups are triggered by stimulation of nerves in upper part of the stomach and/or lower part of the esophagus. The stimuli seem to be gases, such as air. When we eat too rapidly, we often gulp down air along with food. Most of it should escape back up (burping), but some get trapped between layers of food. Hiccups are a way of forcing the air up and out of the system. Hopefully, they will cause enough discomfort and embarrassment to get you to stop eating until all the air escapes. You can see why drinking carbonated beverages may also start an uncomfortable round of hiccupping. The time between hiccups seem to correspond to gastric movements, which, yes, may seem random. However, over the long run, they do seem to have a more or less predictable rhythm. The trick is to help your system for the trapped gasses either up or down.

UP: Tilt head to look straight up, thus opening the airways to the maximum extent. Take very deep breaths, which helps the diagram push on the stomach.

DOWN: Drinking water does help, as long as you drink slowly and plenty. The pure sugar remedy you mentioned may help to stimulate digestion. Just do not ingest anything which might require chewing, since the processes introduces more air into the system.

Hiccups may involve a tapering effect, too, which means that the reflex continues for a short time after the stimuli is gone. But the sooner your digestion settles, the sooner hiccups will stop. There may also be a psychological part, too. The "drinking from a cup backwards" and "shocking a hiccup away" may work by affecting the sympathetic nervous system, essentially "resetting" the nerves. Some GI injuries may cause chronic hiccupping. Chemical burns (too much hot peppers), infections, ulcers, etc. may cause such injuries. Some people simply cannot stop hiccupping for days! But for most of us, prevention is better than cure: eat slowly, thoughtfully; not too much; do not drink carbonated beverages while eating; concentrate on your meal; common sense things. Your appreciation for food will increase, as well as decreasing your hiccupping!


Click here to return to the Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory