getting to the bottom of incurable hiccups this year’s Ig Nobel Prize winners (announced last week) is a crew of scientists who wrote two separate papers titled “Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage.”

Um, in other words, if you have hiccups that just refuse to go away, despite holding your breath, eating spoonfuls of peanut butter, covering your head with a paper bag, swallowing sugar , and drinking glasses of water with your head upside down (presumably not all at once), then you should have someone stick their finger up your butt.

This from the abstract of one of the Ig Nobel winning papers:

A 60-year-old man with acute pancreatitis developed persistent hiccups after insertion of a nasogastric tube. Removal of the latter did not terminate the hiccups which had also been treated with different drugs, and several manoeuvres were attempted, but with no success. Digital rectal massage was then performed resulting in abrupt cessation of the hiccups. Recurrence of the hiccups occurred several hours later, and again, they were terminated immediately with digital rectal massage. No other recurrences were observed.

So this poor old guy has already suffered the indignity of having a tube run down his nose. Now he has hiccups that won’t quit. Someone in a white coat asks him to roll on his stomach for a moment and juuuust relax, and—yow! I particularly like the description of the hiccups’ cessation as “abrupt.” I’ll bet.

The hiccups return later, and here comes Mr. White Coat, snapping on his latex gloves.

“No, don’t worry about it, they aren’t nearly as bad this time. I can feel them getting ready to stop!”

“Of course, Mr. Smith. Roll over for me, will you please?”

No recurrences after that. Mmhmm.

Some sufferers will never again mention their hiccups to a soul. And other individuals will undoubtedly be trying whatever means necessary to induce their own intractable case…

5 responses to “getting to the bottom of incurable hiccups

  1. I used to suffer from bouts of hiccups when I was a university student. Strangely enough, this would often happen when I was on my way back to my lodgings having spent and agreable evening with fellow students at one – or frequently several – of the town’s excellent hostelries.

    There I would be, walking through darkened streets and racked – yes positively racked – by explosive hiccups. I eventually discovered a cure and on the rare occasions when I get hiccups now, it still seems to work. The method is best applied in solitude as one is apt to look ridiculous or be suspected of having a seizure, especially as one cannot explain what is going on without ruining the procedure.


    First, have hiccups.
    Next, breathe in as deeply as possible.
    Breathe in some more.
    Repeat until one is near bursting point.
    Now hold your breath, for as long as it takes, until the hiccups subside.
    Breathe out slowly.
    Resume normal breathing

    I was never sure whether this was a true method, i.e. one that worked through some biological mecahnism, or whether I was simply scaring my body into thinking “Stop hiccupping or die!”

    Imagine the scene: scruffy student smelling faintly (yes, faintly) of beer, blue in face, staggering about trying not to breathe, all the while shaken by internal explosions. I’m lucky no one ever called the police, the ambulance and the fire brigade.

  2. I get the hiccups every time I eat pretzels. Pretty weird. The only thing that stops them is drinking a glass of water upside-down. Bend over at the waist, look at the wall behind you, place glass upright in front of your mouth–your chin practically wading in the glass–and drink up…umm…down. Works every time! Just don’t accidentally breathe through your nose, or you’ll end up spewing water all over the place!

  3. Device for the Treatment of Hiccups
    patent#: US 7062320

    Is there any cure for hiccups that is not patently silly? Some people breathe into paper bags, others like a good scare, and the more acrobatically inclined like to drink a glass of while standing on their heads. But the cures get even more extreme as the condition lingers. According to the inventor:

    “Hiccups lasting up to 48 hours are classified as ’bouts’. Hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours are called ‘persistent.’ Those lasting longer than a month are called ‘intractable.’ ”

    Hiccups lasting longer than a month! I would call that a living nightmare! At this point sufferers may resort to more extreme measures such as “inducing vomiting, or applying traction on the tongue or pressure on the eyeballs.” As always, if all else fails, try poking yourself about the face and see what happens.

    Faced with the above options, you can see the incentive to invent something new. This device (which peculiarly looks like a hands-free version of one of those “cup and string” phones) is a metallic cup with one electrode making contact with your cheek and another electrode making contact with the temple. When the cup is full of water and you begin to drink, an electrical circuit is created, thus stimulating the vagus and phrenic nerves and “reliably interrupting the Hiccup Reflexive Arc.”

    Ions to the rescue!

    Check out the official website at
    (Thanks, KB)!

    filed under Medicine
    more | tell a friend | comments (7)
    posted on 8/24/2006, patent issued on 6/13/2006

  4. Laura, I’ve tried the drinking-upside-down approach before. On the occasions when I haven’t drenched myself, it’s worked pretty well. I’ve also had occasional success with Tiger’s long-holding-of-breath method, as well as with the Mary Poppins spoonful of sugar.

    A friend of mine once cured her husband’s hiccups by getting a $20 bill out of her purse and telling him, “If you hiccup again, you can have this.” Not another sound. 😀

    And as for the electical shock treatment, no thanks!!

  5. So this is honest SPAM 🙂 We’re getting the word out about HIKKUP.COM a site to encourage honest conversations with the people you know. See and sign-up for the private beta.

Leave a Reply to Roupen N. Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s