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The causes of hiccups are complex, but the activation of certain nerves followed by the contraction of the diaphragm best explains how the reflex is triggered. According to researchers, hiccups are typically seen in smokers and people who consume large quantities of alcohol. Hospitals and palliative care units have also observed hiccups in patients being treated for strokes and several different types of cancer.
It is misunderstood exactly how hiccups are triggered, but experts believe the causes differ in different people.
There is a general consensus that irritation and stimulation of the phrenic nerves and vagus nerves are responsible.
Doctors in Italy, however, have reported cases where men could trigger hiccups just by shaving and stroking their beards.
Among the more obscure causes of the condition are stroke and various types of cancer.
News Medical Life Sciences, states that the list of cancers associated with hiccups is extensive, and includes:
- Oesophageal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Some brain tumours
- Tumours of the mediastinum
- Lung cancer.
The health body states that in these conditions, hiccups may develop when the nerves that serve the diaphragm become irritated.
Timothy Pfanner, assistant professor of medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Centre College of Medicine, explained: “Anything that causes your stomach to become distended can cause hiccups.
“Smokers are prone because they are constantly swallowing air.
“Sometimes we see intractable hiccups in patients diagnosed with cancers of the brain, lymph nodes or stomach cancer.
“You should seek advice from your health care provider if your hiccups progress from happening every once in a while to becoming persistent or intractable.”
In stroke, it’s believed that disruptions to the neurotransmitter pathways in the central nervous system may lead to hiccups.
These disruptions are often observed in the brains of patients being treated for brain tumours too.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, neurologist Diana Greene-Chandos, explained it’s important to look for other signs to determine whether you’re having a stroke.
Numbness, blurred vision or sudden confusion, for instance, are key indicators of the condition.
What’s more, Dr Greene-Chandos explained that hiccups due to stroke are likely to be “painful, unrelenting and severe that come on out of nowhere”.
In a poll conducted by the researcher and her team, 1,000 were asked about their stroke, and 10 percent of the women were aware that hiccups are an indicator of the condition.
In stomach cancer, the causes differ slightly, as they may occur solely when the stomach stops working and becomes extended and bloated.
To determine whether cancer is the cause of hiccups, it may be worth looking for other key signs of the disease like weight loss and fatigue.
The NHS states that hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours or that come back very often should be checked by a doctor.
“The GP will want to find out if your hiccups are caused by a health condition or medicine you’re taking,” adds the health body.
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