Acid reflux and hiccups

Hiccups – an unusual symptom of acid reflux

Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
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An introduction to acid reflux and hiccups

Although acid reflux and heartburn are fairly well recognised digestive complains, some of the other symptoms associated with them may be relatively lesser known, such as hiccups.

Acid reflux occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach bypass the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) and travel backwards and upwards into the oesophagus.  This may be a one-off episode for some, for example after overeating, but if your symptoms are persistent a whole number of other symptoms can crop as a result, from nausea, to hiccups.

How does acid reflux cause hiccups?

Acid reflux occurs as the contents of our stomach travel upwards, above the level of the stomach, and enter into the oesophagus. This can give rise to a number of symptoms, heartburn being the most common, but actually, a number of other symptoms can also be associated with acid reflux.

Also in more severe cases of acid reflux, for example associated with conditions such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), or hiatus hernia, additional symptoms are more likely to crop up, such as hiccups. So if recurrent hiccups are an issue for you, it is possible there could be links to your stomach.

Our diaphragm is a sheet of internal muscle that extends across the abdomen, separating the upper abdomen from the lower. Normally, the stomach sits below the diaphragm and the majority of the oesophagus sits above. However, if the contents of the stomach (or a whole portion of the stomach in the case of hiatus hernia) make their way upwards towards the diaphragm, this can have adverse  effects.

Hiccups can occur as a result of an upset diaphragm – involuntary contractions can cause your breathing to become irregular and an interaction with your vocal cords results in the characteristic hiccupping sound. In order for hiccups to cease, the unwanted pressure should be taken off the diaphragm, giving your breathing a chance to regulate.


What can I try at home for hiccups?

If regular episodes of hiccups are getting you down and you suspect acid reflux may be the underlying cause, there are a number of simple home tips that could help:

  • Consider giving up other problematic habits. Even without a problem with acid reflux, other factors at any time, could contribute to an episode of hiccups. These include drinking alcohol, smoking, eating too quickly or too much or eating spicy or gas-producing foods or drinks, such as chewing gum or fizzy drinks. Watch out for potential triggers and cut them out as necessary
  • Regulate your breathing. As hiccups are a result of your diaphragm upsetting your breathing rhythm, there is reason to believe that consciously regulating your breathing could help. Take a deep breath in, hold your breath for as long as is comfortable, for say around 30 seconds, and repeat this process until your hiccups (hopefully!) stop
  • Sip on cold water. Sipping some cold water may help get rid of hiccups, although there is no definitive evidence for this as yet. Then, adding a strange technique may or may not also be useful! The water itself, especially if cold, may help to calm/flush through a troublesome oesophagus. The rather odd techniques that are often suggested,  such as drinking whilst hanging upside down or pinching your nose, may have some benefit as these actions could help to regulate your breathing.

How can herbal remedies help me?

There may be some natural remedy options that could help to manage episodes of hiccups as a result of acid reflux:

How can my doctor help?

If recurrent episodes of hiccups are a problem, we would always recommend you go to your doctor for further advice. Although acid reflux may be at the root of the problem, other causes can include respiratory issues or problems with the nervous system, so we would want your doctor to help confirm what might be going on.

If acid reflux is the likely cause and home and herbal remedies haven’t helped, your doctor may be able to prescribe some antacid medication. Always beware of any side effects of medication though, and return to your doctor if your symptoms fail to improve.

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