When you hiccup, your diaphragm involuntarily
contracts. (The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle
that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen.
It plays an extremely important role in
breathing.) This contraction of the diaphragm then
causes an immediate and brief closure of the vocal
cords, which produces the characteristic sound of
a hiccup. What actually causes the hiccup is
difficult to say - in most instances, there is no
obvious cause. Attacks of the hiccups seem to
be associated with a few different things: eating
or drinking too fast; being nervous or excited; or
having irritation in the stomach and/or throat.
In some extremely rare cases, the underlying
cause of hiccups can be pleurisy
(inflammation of the membrane lining of the lungs
and chest cavity), pneumonia, certain disorders of
the stomach or esophagus, pancreatitis,
alcoholism, or hepatitis. Any one of these
conditions can cause irritation of the diaphragm
or of the phrenic nerves that supply the
diaphragm - it's the irritation that causes the
hiccups. Still, the cause of most attacks of the
hiccups remains a mystery.
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