While most people treat hiccups with a glass of water, persistent hiccupers need special treatment for what can be a dangerous condition. Italian doctors have a new approach for such chronic cases.
28 12:52 PM EST
If a glass of water, a scare or holding your breath won't cure your hiccups, perhaps a shot will.
Doctors in Rome say an injection of a pain medication widely used outside of the United States may be able to stop the condition, which for some can be more than a nuisance.
They reported their findings in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine .
Can Be Sign of Serious Problem
While most people experience intermittent cases of hiccups, chronic cases do occur, and may indicate a more severe underlying medical condition. A large hospital may see around seven cases of chronic hiccups per year.
Hiccups are caused by a sudden, involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, causing a quick inhalation. The sudden closure of the vocal cords at the same time leads to the characteristic hiccuping sound.
Garden-variety hiccups are due to the swallowing of air, excess food consumption, alcohol, stress, drinking carbonated beverages, sudden excitement or rapid temperature change.
People treat the annoying burps in a variety of ways, using methods that have no scientific proof of efficacy, such as putting arms in the air, swallowing a teaspoon of sugar, breathing into a paper bag, pulling the tongue, drinking a glass of water, biting on a lemon and holding one's breath. Hiccups usually go away in 20 minutes to an hour.
If hiccups last more than 48 hours, though, the condition may be termed chronic, or persistent. Anyone experiencing continuing hiccups should consult a physician.
There are more than 100 causes of chronic hiccups, the most common being gastroesophageal reflux disease, cardiac pacemakers, some drugs, central nervous system disorders and multiple sclerosis.
Chronic hiccups may create complications such as exhaustion, dehydration, retching, weight loss, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, malnutrition and depression.
Drs. Federico Bilotta and Giovanni Rosa of the University of Rome say they were able to relieve incapacitating hiccups in three patients within a minute with a single injection of a painkilling drug called nefopam. The medication prevents shivering and is available outside the United States.
They first treated the patients with chlorpromazine, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for hiccups, and lidocaine. But when the treatment did not work they tried the nefopam, which helped in the three cases.
Once the hiccups
had stopped, the patients also stopped using the nefopam, which can produce
nausea, nervousness and dry mouth as side effects, and returned to the
ABCNEWS Radio's Daria
Ablinger, ABCNEWS.com's Robin Eisner and Reuters contributed to this report.