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Hiccups can be really annoying and maybe a little embarrassing at times. In fact, there are so many tips/tricks to stop said hiccups-I personally like to hold in my breath until I can, repeat that twice and voila! Hiccups are gone. I saw one trick that said if you bend forward and drink water, the hiccups would go away.

I was sitting in class, bored out of my mind(it was a psychiatry lecture) and I’m not sure how but my chain of thoughts led me to an episode from Grey’s Anatomy, where Meredith’s stepmother died from hiccups.

It was season 3, Episode 23(for all you grey’s anatomy fans)

So, Can Hiccups actually lead to death?

Well, no, not really.

Hiccups are involuntary spasms of the diaphragm and are usually short-lived, therefore, not serious.

The involuntary spasm of the diaphragm is actually due to irritation of the nerve that connects the brain to the diaphragm.

The problem arises when the hiccups are persistent. Hiccups on their own are not capable of causing death but it could be a symptom of an underlying disease.

FACT: “Some experts think holding your breath or breathing into a paper bag might do the trick; both techniques make carbon dioxide build up in your lungs, which might relax the diaphragm.”

(I’m glad my trick is actually scientifically proven)

Chronic Hiccups- They are called so if the hiccups are persistent for longer than 48 hours.

Chronic hiccups are very rare, but they tend to happen more often in men than in women. Other people who may have a higher risk of getting chronic hiccups include those who:

  • have recently undergone general anesthesia

  • experience anxiety or other mental health issues

  • have had surgery in the area of the abdomen

  • have illnesses of the liver, bowel, stomach, or diaphragm

  • are pregnant

  • have cancer

  • drink alcohol excessively

  • have a nervous system disorder

Treatment: You usually can’t treat the issue yourself or resolve the problem at home. Treatments depend on the underlying cause and may include:

  • treating the underlying health condition that’s causing the hiccups

  • taking medications prescribed by a doctor, such as baclofen, chlorpromazine, valproic acid, or metoclopramide

  • having surgery, such as implanting a device that electrically stimulates the vagus nerve

  • injecting the phrenic nerve with anesthetic

  • Acupuncture

What had actually happened in the Grey’s anatomy episode and can it happen in real life?

In the episode, Susan Gray, Meredith’s Stepmother, came to the hospital with persistent hiccups which turned out to be because of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease(GERD). For this, they prescribed chlorpromazine and sent her home. The medication didn't work and the doctor decided to go forward with a procedure called Endoscopic Gastroplication. This procedure is an endoluminal technique in which a series of stitches is inserted just below the LES to create a pleat in the lower esophageal sphincter, which alters the valve to reduce reflux. During this procedure, Susan Grey ended up having an infection which led to infective endocarditis. She then got a more fatal infection which led to her death.

Can this happen in real life? -Very highly unlikely. The episode was aired in 2007, and it's been 16 years since then. The healthcare system is a lot more advanced since it was back then, thorough fumigation of OT and sterility is maintained strictly in all hospitals now.

The procedure that was done, Endoscopic Gastroplication, has been proven to have less long-term benefits. Read about it in a paper published(link down below).

Prolonged hiccups have also been known to be a rare presenting sign of a stroke. There were also rare cases of pulmonary embolism that presented with hiccups.

Charles Osborne

The Guinness World records holder for the longest attack of hiccups.

This man had hiccups lasting for 68 years, right from June 13, 1922 to 1990. Charles Osborne had an accident on June 13, 1922 and ever since then, had to live with hiccups up until 1990 when they suddenly just stopped. He passed away a year later in 1991.

On average, Osborne experienced 20 to 40 involuntary diaphragm spasms per minute. In total, he hiccupped an estimated 430 million times before his death in May 1991 at age 97.

He had a fall for which he went to the hospital and his doctor told him that he burst a blood vessel the size of a pin in his head. Ali Seifi, a neurosurgeon, theorized that during his fall on June 13, he sustained a minor injury to his lower ribs which led to the hiccups. Another possibility, according to Seifi, is that Osborne hit his head and had a stroke. The longest he had gone without having a hiccup was for 50 hours.

Charles Osborne had an intractable case of hiccups. No one knows what actually stopped his hiccups in the year 1990.

Another case:

In the 2000s, Chris Sands of Lincolnshire, England, experienced hiccups for around three years; doctors eventually concluded that a brain tumor was the culprit behind the contractions.

To summarize, Hiccups in general are nothing to worry about. Persistent hiccups(longer than 48 hours) can be a bit of a concern. You should go to the doctor to rule out any underlying disease.


This was it for today's post. Thank you for reading it. Let us know any other diseases you'd like to know about in the comments down below.

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