Hiccups—sometimes called hiccoughs—are not dangerous themselves, and are rarely a sign of a health problem.
However, if hiccups persist for more than 48 hours, you should see a doctor. Hiccups can be a sign of kidney failure, pneumonia, lung tumors, digestion problems and heart attack.
If hiccups are so severe that they interfere with your life, see your doctor. If your hiccups last for more than three hours and you are experiencing severe abdominal pain, or you spit up blood, you should get emergency medical attention.
A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs that helps you breathe. The spasm is followed by the vocal cords closing. This combined action produces a recognizable sound.
The term hiccup is an example of onomatopoeia, the formation of words that imitate sounds. The medical term for hiccup is “singultus.” The Latin word “singult” means “the act of catching one’s breath while sobbing.”
Almost all cases of hiccups last only a few minutes. If hiccups last longer than two days, they are considered “persistent.” Hiccups lasting longer than one month are termed “intractable.”
Charles Osborne, an Iowa man, hiccupped continuously for 68 years (1922-1990). Osborne was entered in Guinness World Records as the man with the Longest Attack of Hiccups.
The exact cause of hiccups is an ancient mystery. Hippocrates, the Greek “Father of Medicine,” thought liver inflammation was responsible for hiccups.