We’ve all had an innocent case of the hiccups at least once in our lives. While they have a number of triggers, the most common tend to include stress, alcohol consumption and overeating. In some cases, hiccups are a sign that something more serious is brewing in your body. Regular and persistent bouts can even be an early warning sign of cancer.
What is a Hiccup?
But first, what on earth is really happening when we hiccup? These somewhat annoying occurrences happen when you have a spasm that affects the diaphragm, the muscle that controls the inhalation and exhalation of your lungs. Scientists don’t really understand why, but the phenomenon occurs when our phrenic and vagus nerves become irritated. Most people only have the hiccups for a few minutes and they usually resolve on their own. Extreme cases, on the other hand, can persist for months. When that happens, they can become exhausting, interfering with a person’s ability to eat and sleep.
Stomach or Esophageal Cancer
When upper digestive tract irritation triggers the wrong nerves, it can lead to hiccups. The reaction can become excessive in the case of stomach or esophageal cancers. Other symptoms of stomach cancer include stomach pain or discomfort, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, and bloody stool. Esophageal cancer can cause hoarseness or coughing, chest pain, and trouble swallowing. Both can cause poor appetite, heartburn, and unintentional weight loss. Take note if you are experiencing persistent hiccups in addition to these other symptoms.
As they grow, tumors of the pancreas can press against the stomach, irritating nearby nerves and leading to persistent hiccups. Other signs of pancreatic cancer are blood clots, jaundice, depression, appetite loss, and unintended weight loss. Pancreatic cancer can also cause the onset of diabetes in otherwise healthy individuals.
As rare as it is, if you happen to have a brain tumor that presses against just the right cluster of nerves, it can cause persistent hiccups. Such was the case of a 35-year-old man whose violent episodes landed him in the emergency room three times. During the first two episodes, he didn’t have any other symptoms and the hiccups eventually resolved.
When he went in the third time, however, he suffered profuse vomiting and had numbness and tingling in his left arm. Shortly later, the numbness and tingling progressed to his legs, and he had difficulty balancing and walking. Doctors would later trace all of his symptoms to a brain tumor at the base of his neck.
While most of these symptoms can be symptoms of simple, benign issues, persistent or recurring hiccups are nothing to ignore. Regardless of the cause, your body is trying to tell you something’s not right, so listen to it and reach out to your doctor. You might be glad you did.