21

I was under the impression that drinking water upside-down worked for curing hiccups (when they worked) merely due to a placebo effect, or at the very least didn't work any better than just drinking water normally. In spite of this, many of my friends swear by it, saying it's the only 'cure' that works for them.

Is there any validity to this method of 'curing' the hiccups? I am most curious about minor spells which affect most people, not intractable hiccups.


Some background resources:

Hiccups are intermittent, abrupt, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm resulting in sudden inspiration abruptly opposed by closure of the glottis. The diaphragmatic contraction is often unilateral, occurring more often on the left side. Most hiccups occur as brief, self-limited episodes lasting only for a few seconds or minutes but sometimes may last for prolonged periods (> 48 hours), interfering with rest, sleep, and eating and causing fatigue, exhaustion, depression, and on occasion, death. In addition to treating underlying disorders, there are numerous methods to quell hiccups. Nevertheless, hiccups may be persistent despite a variety of therapeutic modalities.[1]

Hiccups are an involuntarily powerful spasm of the diaphragm, followed by a sudden inspiration with a closure of the glottis. Hiccups that are caused by gastric distention, spicy foods and neural dysfunction can resolve themselves without any treatment. Some hiccups are associated with certain diseases or they occur postsurgically, and life-restricting intractable hiccups should be treated. The cause of hiccups should be quickly determined so as to administer the proper treatment.[2]

Some anecdotal evidence:

"I cure my hiccups by filling a glass of water, bending over forward, and drinking the water upside down," says Richard McCallum, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of the Gastroenterology Division at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. "That always works and I firmly recommend it for my normally healthy patients."

That cure came through for musician Mark Golin, who found himself beset with hiccups after a late-night gig in New York City. "A woman told me to bend over and drink the water from the opposite side of the glass," he says. "It worked then and has worked dozens of times since then." [3]

[1] Feng-Cheng Liu, Acupuncture Therapy Rapidly Terminates Intractable Hiccups, South Med J. 2005;98(3):385-387.

[2] Ju Hwan Lee, Treatment of Intractable Hiccups. Korean J Pain. 2010 March; 23(1): 42–45

  • 3
    I've limited the claim to just one method as there are hundreds and hundreds of purported hiccup cures. – Sklivvz Mar 27 '11 at 19:45
  • 1
    I recently read (can't find the source just now, so I only post it as a comment) that oxygen deprivation, like breathing into a bag, can stop this reflex. The body produces the hiccups as protection mechanism but switches it off when the blood oxygen level falls below a value so that breathing, which has than a higher priority, isn't affected. For what it's worth: I tried it with my hiccup and it worked! So drinking water upside-down will stop you from breathing which would have a similar effect like breathing into a bag. – Martin Scharrer Mar 28 '11 at 11:40
  • 1
    @Martin:I would absolutely love to see that article. Because, despite your anecdotal case study of one, your comment seems to show profound misunderstanding of how the hypoxic drive works. Since comments are a good place for anecdotes: the only cases I've seen clinically with a definitive cause and cure were caused by faulted pacemaker leads stimulating diaphragmatic spasm. (find the data if you like, it's quite common) However, given how little is actually verifiable about the underlying pathology of hiccups, I would love a link to your source. Hope you can post it soon. Cheers. – Monkey Tuesday Mar 29 '11 at 3:27
  • I've added two articles which offer background information on the possible causes of hiccups, but each discusses possible cures for intractable which are not relevant to answering this question. I've also included a (anecdotal) reference that better describes the 'cure' for the common hiccups in question here. – Alain Mar 30 '11 at 12:54
  • The only thing that works for me is holding my breath. – Nobody Apr 1 '11 at 9:24
12

I've seen countless claims about hiccup cures online, but they do seem to be largely due to the placebo effect, as none of them seem to work effectively for everyone. Very little scientific research has been done on cures for mild hiccups, but the best explanation seems to be that home remedies seem to distract one so the hiccups can stop on their own. The suggestions from places like the previous link, WebMD, etc., that acupuncture may be effective lends further credence to the placebo/distraction explanation.
The NIH says "There is no sure way to stop hiccups, but there are a number of common suggestions that may be effective..."

Anecdote: A method that has always worked for me that I have not seen mentioned or properly tested is to forcefully swallow air (just enough to push past the comfort zone). It's uncomfortable to do, but when done right it works immediately and every time, so I thought I'd mention it.

  • 2
    Funny, this works for me also. Anecdotally, of course. – Uticensis Apr 2 '11 at 21:23
  • Thanks for the swallowing air suggestion. Just interested: "when done right it works immediately and every time" - how do you know you have done it wrong? (presumably, whether or not the hiccoughs stop can't be your only yardstick when deciding that this method works!) – FoleyIsGood Apr 23 '11 at 10:02
  • You know you've done it right because you'll feel very uncomfortable for a moment due to having forced some air past where it felt like you were able to (swallowed more than you thought you could). Hiccups promptly stop. It can be difficult to do though as the hiccuping itself often interferes. – Tanath Apr 24 '11 at 1:01
  • It is worth noting that the quote for NIH is under the section "Home Care". They go on to explain there are medical procedures that help too. – Oddthinking Aug 3 '11 at 8:50
  • One technique that always works for me - is to simply tense my diaphragm, and breath for about a minute (depending on the time interval of the hiccups), maintaining tension the whole time. I suspect that by keeping the muscles tense, when a spasm arrives, it can't over-ride the conscious control over the muscle, and somehow resets whatever is generating the spasm (yes, I have no medical training, and no clue what is really happening :) But it does seem to work. – John C Dec 17 '11 at 15:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .