DR ELLIE CANNON: Why does my poor husband get hiccups every time he eats?

DR ELLIE CANNON: Why does my poor husband get hiccups every time he eats?
DR ELLIE CANNON: Why does my poor husband get hiccups every time he eats?

My husband suffers from severe hiccups every time he eats. It's been going on for quite a while, and mainly happens when he eats bread or potatoes. 

The hiccups last for several minutes, and it's quite embarrassing if we're in company. Is this something he needs to worry about? He refuses to see a GP.

Hiccups are due to involuntary spasms or contractions of the diaphragm muscle, which sits below the lungs and over the stomach, separating the upper and lower abdomen.

The spasm causes air to be sucked into the lungs, and this quick inhalation makes a structure inside the throat called the epiglottis slam shut – the epiglottis is a flap of tissue that closes over the windpipe when swallowing to prevent the inhalation of food, drink or saliva. 

It's the sudden closure of the epiglottis that causes the characteristic 'hic' sound.

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Hiccups are due to involuntary spasms or contractions of the diaphragm muscle, which sits below the lungs and over the stomach, separating the upper and lower abdomen, says DR ELLIE CANNON. (Stock image)

Hiccups are due to involuntary spasms or contractions of the diaphragm muscle, which sits below the lungs and over the stomach, separating the upper and lower abdomen, says DR ELLIE CANNON. (Stock image)

The initial spasm is a result of something irritating the nerves that control the diaphragm – for instance, eating too fast or taking fizzy drinks can make the stomach expand rapidly and have this effect, due simply to the proximity of the stomach to the diaphragm.

A bout of hiccups that lasts a few minutes isn't considered a problem – it's just part of being human. 

They may seem associated with a specific food, so avoiding those foods, or being mindful to eat them slowly, can be an easy fix. But there are lots of conditions that can lead to persistent hiccups, including acid reflux. 

They can be a side effects of medications including morphine-like painkillers. Rarely, persistent hiccups can be related to very serious conditions such as a stroke or a head injury.

When hiccups persist, doctors may want to run tests. Acid reflux can be controlled with over-the-counter medicines.

There are plenty of home remedies that we have all heard of for hiccups – such as holding your breath – but none of them is proven to work. Often hiccups just stop in their own time.

One reader's lesson for us all… 

A few weeks back, a man wrote to me saying he'd been suffering a 'droopy eye' and double vision – and asked if it could be a side effect of his statin medication.

I pointed out that while statins aren't typically linked to such problems, in my experience, sight disturbance like this is a serious issue and may need investigation. 

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I suggested that a visit to the GP and referral to neurology would be warranted.

Last week, the same reader wrote again to let me know how things had progressed.

He'd been seen by a neurologist and had been diagnosed with a condition called ocular myasthenia gravis, a problem with the muscles of the eye. 

As the reader quite rightly pointed out, while 'scary', the condition can be controlled with medication.

He added: 'The moral is that if you suffer double vision, even for a short time, see your doctor.' 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

 

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Sleeping has been difficult

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