an uncomfortable curiosity that is of little interest to medicine

Hiccups are a reaction of our body as special as it is familiar. We almost all have is experiencing one or more episodes of hiccups at some point in our lives and we have tried the most varied actions to try to put an end to it. In the medical field, the technical word for hiccups is “singulto”, a term which comes from the Latin “singultus” and which can mean “to gasp”, “sigh” or “to sob”.

Hiccups are caused by sudden, involuntary, repeated contractions of the diaphragm – the dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity – causing rapid entry of air into the lungs and, after that, its blockage due to the sudden closure of the glottis – a space located in the larynx, where the vocal cords are located. All of this triggers the typical hiccup sound we’re used to. For unknown reasons, hiccups affect significantly more men than women.

These contractions of the diaphragm during hiccups are triggered by the (usually transient) alteration in the functioning of the vagus or phrenic nerves that control the contraction and relaxation of this muscle or the respiratory center (located in the medulla oblongata, under the brain). to exist several factors which increase the risk of hiccups: excess food, consumption of alcohol, tobacco or carbonated drinks, sudden changes in ambient temperature, emotional stress, excessive swallowing of air (aerophagia)…

But where does the hiccups come from?

Although the factors favoring the appearance of hiccups are well identified, the mechanism involved is generally unknown in almost all cases. What causes the nerves that reach the diaphragm to suddenly send abnormal signals temporarily? It’s a mystery in almost every case. There is also no known utility or necessary function of hiccups in the human body. Unlike other involuntary reflexes like coughing or sneezing, which have obvious protective functions, it seems that hiccups happen for no reason that justifies it.