|MadSci Network: Anatomy
You get hiccups when the phrenic nerve is irritated. The most common cause is eating too much or having a mild case of esophageal reflux (heartburn). They can also rarely be caused by some kinds of heart attacks. The phrenic nerve controls the diaphragm, that most important muscle that does most of your breathing. (The intercostal muscles between your ribs also participate.) The phrenic nerve originates in the high cervical/neck region of the spinal cord. 'C 3 4 5, keeps you breathing, and alive' is the rhyme that medical students learn to remember the nerve roots.
There is a saying in medicine that the number of cures for a problem is inversely proportional to their effectiveness. But, yes both rythmic breathing and breath holding can stop hiccups. So, on occasion, can drinking water, swallowing a teaspoon of sugar, and a variety of other remedies. David Winsemius, MD
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