What Causes Hiccups?

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A recent question has been, what causes hiccups? Torrevieja J. Nowak answered the question in this article that has been researched but not fully known yet by William A. Whitelaw. Whitelaw believes they are caused by neurological abnormalities, many involving the brainstem. Swelling of the stomach resulting in reflux of stomach acid in the esophagus is by far the most common disorder associated with the hiccups. Several things happen in a series when a person has hiccups. First the roof of the mouth lifts, as does the back of the tongue, accompanied by a burp. Then the diaphragm and then all the inhaling muscles come together in a strong contraction. Just after the contraction the vocal cords clamp shut making the "hic" sound. Then the heart tends to slow down a little. Hiccups happen every few seconds and could last up to a couple hours. The observations made by Whitelaw means that somewhere in the brain a central pattern generator, CPG, exist for hiccups.

The hiccup CPG was most likely left over from a previous stage in evolution. According to evolutionary theory, the CPG probably would not be preserved unless it served some sort of purpose. A possibility is that the hiccup CPG directs suckling in infants to ensure that the milk does not get into the lungs. Another possibility could be that the CPG controls burping to clear gas from an overfilled stomach. Whatever the true cause of hiccups experts are still trying to figure out, but as for now I just need to know how to get rid of these hiccups.

Work Cited Nowak, J. "What Causes Hiccups." Scientific American August 2004: 100.

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