How to stop hiccups. Is there any evidence at all?

by Gillian Mayman on November 5, 2012

If you spend enough time at my home, you will eventually hear a kid shriek, “Sugar!” and run into the kitchen to eat a spoonful of granulated sugar. This is not a sign of addiction. It just means that they have the hiccups and our favorite home remedy is to eat a spoonful of sugar to stop them.

We all have our own methods for trying to get rid of hiccups but I want to know which cures are actually effective. Is there any evidence for one cure being the best?

What are hiccups?

Hiccups are caused by a spasm in your diaphragm.  The diaphragm is the muscle that separates your thorax (including your lungs and heart) from your abdomen (including your stomach and intestines). When you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts and pulls down and becomes flat in order to make room for more air in the lungs. When you breathe out, your diaphragm expands and forces air out of your lungs.

During a hiccup, your diaphragm spams causing you to take a quick breath in. This breath in is then interrupted by the epiglottis closing and causing a “hic” sound. (FYI, the epiglottis is a flap that covers the space between the vocal cords).

What is the best way to stop hiccups?

The scientific medical literature reveals extremely limited evidence for treating¬† common, non-persistent hiccups. Most of the “evidence” is in case studies of single individuals, anecdotal evidence in the form of a letter to the editor, or small uncontrolled studies of 5-20 individuals.

Since there was no one method for stopping hiccups which stood out as having a solid base of evidence, I’ve listed a sampling of methods below. The list is ordered from most useful to most bizarre. Personally, I recommend sticking with the first two methods.

A Spoonful of Sugar
Technique: A spoonful of granulated sugar is eaten.
Evidence: This was found to be effective in 19 out or 20 patients.
Mechanism: Unknown. Possibly stimulus of the vagus nerve.
Reference: Engleman, E. G., Lankton, J., & Lankton, B. (1971). Granulated sugar as treatment for hiccups in conscious patients. The New England Journal of Medicine, 285(26), 1489.
Drink with plugged ears
Technique: Plug your ears while drinking a glass of water. If you don’t have a friend who is willing to put their fingers in your ears while you drink, you can do it yourself while drinking through a straw.
Evidence: Anecdotal evidence from a emergency room doctor who uses this method with both patients and friends.
Reference: Goldstein, R. (1999). Practice tips. Simple method for curing hiccups. Canadian Family Physician, 45, 1459.
Lemon with bitters
Technique: Eat a lemon wedge soaked with bitters.
Evidence: Effective in 14 out of 16 individuals with ethanol induced hiccups.
Mechanism: Unclear.
Reference: Herman, J. H., & Nolan, D. S. (1981). A bitter cure. The New England Journal of Medicine, 305(27), 1654.
Cotton swab to roof of mouth
Technique: Rub the tip of a cotton swab to the area between the hard palate and the soft palate for about one minute.
Evidence: Case study of one individual.
Mechanism: Unknown
Reference: Brostoff, J. M., Birns, J., & Benjamin, E. (2009). The “cotton bud technique” as a cure for hiccups. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 266(5), 775-776.
Gag yourself
Technique: Touch the base of the tongue with your finger and press it down slightly.
Evidence: Anecdotal.
Mechanism: Possibly the momentary stopping of breathing due to the gag reflex causes the phrenic nerves to return to normal rhythm.
Reference: Kumar, A. (2005). Gag reflex for arrest of hiccups. Medical Hypotheses, 65(6), 1206.
Technique: Be a man and have an orgasm during intercourse.
Evidence: Case study of one man with intractable hiccups.
Mechanism: Unknown.
Reference: Peleg, R., & Peleg, A. (2000). Case report: Sexual intercourse as potential treatment for intractable hiccups. Canadian Family Physician, 46, 1631-1632.
Rectal massage
Technique: Rectal massage using a finger.
Evidence: Seven out of seven patients were cured of intractable hiccups. (There are at least three (!) articles on this method. This paper won an Ig Nobel award in 2006.)
Mechanism: Possibly the stimulation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves.
Reference: Odeh, M., & Oliven, A. (1993). Hiccups and digital rectal massage. Archives of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 119(12), 1383.


Add to the anecdotal evidence: What's YOUR most effective method of stopping hiccups?

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Mia November 5, 2012 at 7:38 am

I usually drink a glas of milk and it stops it right away. Don’t know what mechanism it may trigger.

phanmo November 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

Drink from the other side of a glass of water, i.e. leaning way forward.
Hold you breath and swallow as many times as possible

TT November 5, 2012 at 7:58 am

1. Most amazing:
Look intensively at an empty bowl. Then imagine that the bowl is slowly turned upside down while still looking at it. Think especially about how it would look. The hiccup is gone.

2. Classic
Ask someone to scare you by surprise. It almost always work.

3. Old ways
Drink a glass of water with a fork turned upside down, its basis in the bottom of the glass, the four pieces touching your nose. It may hurt a little.
Drink a glass of water with your head down. hard to do, but works as well.

Tom Holder November 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

I find taking hundreds of mini-sips of water without pausing for breathe works most of the time.

Lindsay November 5, 2012 at 10:23 am

Gillian, this was really entertaining! I love the quick-and-dirty summaries of the scientific literature and the graphics too.

I usually eat a spoonful of peanut butter to cure my hiccups.

Did you find any research about what foods/behaviors/etc actually causes hiccups or prompts hiccups to start? I find that I get hiccups after I eat a lot of bread….

Shara E. November 5, 2012 at 10:58 am

Great piece!
Is there any research on the scaring technique?
I’ve also heard that the valsalva maneuver (used for clearing ears) might work, but i’m guessing there isn’t a lot of research on that one either.
I love the article summaries (and the visuals ;p) for all the studies that you found, and i’ll definitely have to try the sugar one from now on! If nothing else, at least I get sugar?

Erik Cox November 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hilarious – stop hiccups by having an orgasm or rectal agitation…

But seriously, when I was in Singapore, a teaspoon of vinegar seemed to work, in fact, just THINKING about drinking a teaspoon of vinegar seemed to work.

However, will give orgasm a try (snorts pepper…)

Tomi November 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Drink a glass of water upside down, drinking from the other side of the cup. Works 100% of the time.

Just kidding November 7, 2012 at 6:40 am

Rectal massage.

Ow, my bad, I thought you meant cure for boredom, never mind…


Fred Rogers November 7, 2012 at 6:54 am

Eating the sport peppers on a Chicago-style Hot Dog are the best remedy for me. They have to have the celery salt on them… so a Chicago dog is the best source.
Unfortunately, I don’t live in Chicago now.

Second – say “oh fu-hic-k” I have the hiccups. Repeat until I can get the sentence out without the hiccups.

Angela November 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Hi Gillian! I loved the combination of Star Trek inspired graphics, wacky advice and the ‘backing up’ with a scientific paper. Also loved the IG Nobel reference. Wonder whether there is a submission on this topic to the ‘Dance Your PhD’ contest ( )…

undercover_homeopath November 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Lycopodium 200 C

A person February 16, 2013 at 12:07 am

My friend had the hiccups, and the sugar method helped. Try that one.

Reid March 8, 2013 at 1:30 am

I was hiccuping really hard, googled how to stop it, and found this page. (I’ve tried holding my breath and sipping water in the past, but never with any success). The easiest thing to do was to press on the back of my tongue, as suggested here. And like magic, they were immediately gone. It was kind of crazy, really. Thanks!

Rich March 12, 2013 at 12:54 am

Read a comment after googling the hiccups. Sugar worked for me but they came back. So i tried a big scoop of peanut butter and that worked.

pk March 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

gag works 100% as i am the proof. Thanks alot. This site is awesome.

branca March 19, 2013 at 7:22 am

Try doing a head stand for 10 seconds-never dissapoints ;-}

Kit April 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Holding my breath always works for me, but ONLY if I relax my other muscles. So, I sit down, lay back, take a deep breath and hold it until I can’t any more. I figure it stretches and stills the diaphragm, kinda like stretching a cramped muscle. :3

Sarai April 26, 2013 at 1:50 am

Believe me the best way to get tid of hiccup is to hold your breathe for like 2-3 minutes & repeat that if you need to. But it works!

Cyndee Reynolds May 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

This works every time . Eat a ripe banana . I was told its the potassium in the banana that stops the hiccups.

Eric May 29, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Apparently, stopping them may have something to do with with not breathing and then swallowing, which makes me think its not the diaphragm at all that is spasming but the epiglottis. At one time, scientists were calling it a spastic uvula. Just like Pluto stopped being a planet for a while and now is back to being a planet (junk science).

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