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Hiccups can be a sign of a serious disease

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th December 2005 03:00 AM

THE big day comes and you are the main speaker. But as you prepare through the last bits, a shot, sharp force with sound comes up into the throat. “Hic, hic!” That is a hiccup.

THE big day comes and you are the main speaker. But as you prepare through the last bits, a shot, sharp force with sound comes up into the throat. “Hic, hic!” That is a hiccup.

By Carol Natukunda

THE big day comes and you are the main speaker. But as you prepare through the last bits, a shot, sharp force with sound comes up into the throat. “Hic, hic!” That is a hiccup.

Dr. David Nyenje of Mayo clinic on Bombo Road in Kampala defines a hiccup as “spasmodic, forceful, contractions of the muscles that draw in air (inspiratory).”

Dr. Herbert Mugarura of Middle East Hospital in Bugolobi says most hiccups are harmless and last a few minutes. But some can last longer and become dangerous.

What causes hiccups?

A hiccup can be a disease, a symptom or a disorder.
Nyenje says a hiccup is a result of irritation of the diaphragm. Several body muscles go into this irritation or spasms. He says the irritation is a result of the diaphragm lowering involuntarily and as such; air is blocked in the glottis.
“Consequently, a strong force or hiccup develops in the throat,” he says.
Hiccups are also caused by an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are ions in the blood. Nyenje says these ions have certain concentrations, which must be maintained in a certain range.
When the concentration gets out of a certain range, many parts of the body, especially the muscles are affected, thus causing a hiccup.
Traditionally, some people believe that expansion of the stomach, due to over eating and drinking of carbonated drinks, peppery, hot or cold foods could also cause hiccups.
Dr. Mugarura agrees, “Some hiccups seem to be associated with eating or drinking too fast, being nervous or excited, stomach or throat irritation, or taking vigorous exercise straight after a meal.”
Many mothers say hiccups are common with babies after breast-feeding.

Hiccup as a symptom
A 2005 study by Dr. Paul Glare, a clinical associate professor at the University of Australia, found out that persistent hiccups could mean a serious underlying disease or could be associated with a terminal stage of severe illness.
“Diseases like AIDS, cancer, renal failure and pneumonia or any disease that disturbs the diaphragm nerves can cause a hiccup,” the study says.
Dr. Edison Babigamba of the Ear, Nose Throat department at Mulago Hospital says stubborn hiccups could be due to what he describes as ‘neurological disorders’, which could be abdominal. “It could be due to tumours, stomach cancer or an acute intestinal obstruction,” he says.
Mugarura says intractable hiccups can be result of excessive alcohol consumption, pneumonia, abdominal surgery, asthma, stroke, liver and kidney diseases and brain tumour affecting the breathing centre.

Treatment
Mugarura says many people deal with the hiccups, without going for any medication. Some put a piece of paper on a kid’s forehead and the hiccup stops!
There are those who startle you suddenly with a loud and sudden noise, others drink a lot of water while blocking the nose and others gurgle cold water.
“Some beliefs have an impact on the psychological satisfaction of an individual’s health and wellbeing,” says Kajumba Mayanja, a clinical psychologist at Makerere University Institute of Psychology. “Sometimes treatment is purely psychological for some patients.”

The herbal treatment:
Dr. Noleb Mukasa, a herbal consultant at Kampala Traditional Herbal Medicine Centre in Katwe, recommends nearly all ripe fruits of citrus aurantium family, which include, lemon and oranges.
Mukasa says the fruits could tackle the underlying infections like indigestion and abdominal pain, which cause a persistent hiccup.
Monik Adriaens, who made extensive research in medicinal plants in Western Uganda, recommends a bark-cloth fig (mutuba).
“Cut the aerial roots, boil them in water and drink,” writes Adriaens in her book Family Medicinal Plant Gardens.

Modern treatment

If the hiccups last longer than three hours and they are associated with stomach pain and vomiting, Mugarura says corn syrup may work for children and exercises of leaning forward and compressing the chest and diaphragm against the knees while seated.
Some clinical examinations endorse use of granulated sugar as well as drinking water. But some medicines like largactil are dangerous and must be taken in small doses.
Patients should always consult a medical practitioner.

Hiccups can be a sign of a serious disease

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