Everyone experiences an occasional bout of hiccups, especially after a large meal. Hiccups typically last for no more than a few minutes, but if they persist for days, and even weeks, it could be a sign of more serious health issues.
The most common belief is that hiccups occur when an irritation of the diaphragm muscle causes it to contract suddenly, along with muscles in the neck and chest wall. The contraction leads to a large intake of air that is halted as the vocal cords snap shut, producing the familiar hiccup sound.
Scientists are not entirely certain about the mechanisms behind hiccups or the physiological purpose. In "Scientific American," Professor William Whitelaw of the University of Calgary theorized that hiccups occur in a pattern triggered by signals sent from the brain, and may be a function that originated in an earlier evolutionary stage.
Short-term hiccups may be caused by swallowing too quickly, overeating, and drinking alcoholic or carbonated beverages. Long-term hiccups stem from many sources, including lung disorders, kidney failure, strokes and any other conditions that unsettle the diaphragm. Certain medications have also been known to trigger hiccups.
MedicineNet.com recommends consulting a physician if hiccups persist for more than three hours or become interruptive to sleep or eating habits.
Persistent hiccups may be treated with neuroleptic drugs or by addressing the underlying causes. Temporary hiccups usually stop after a short period of time, but many people utilize home remedies, such as holding your breath or drinking water, to speed up the process.