What are hiccups? Hiccups are muscle spasms in your diaphragm that push air past your vocal cords faster than normal, causing them to tighten in response. The result is often a distinct sound, or a “hiccup.” The diaphragm is a muscle at the base of your chest that helps you inhale. Muscle spasms in the diaphragm can occur for a number of reasons, including recent surgery, an irritation of the phrenic nerve (the nerve that controls the diaphragm), eating or drinking unusual foods or fluids, inhaling smoke or fumes, or having some types of disease or brain injury. Chronic hiccups commonly afflict people with advanced cancer. Hiccups are a universal phenomenon – most everyone has experienced hiccups. Though hiccups usually go away on their own, a variety of home remedies have been suggested to shorten their duration. You can try relaxing, swallowing a teaspoon of sugar, sipping ice water, and breathing deeply and purposefully. Hiccups can be annoying, and if they continue for an extended period, they can become quite uncomfortable. In the majority of cases, hiccups are not of great concern. However, if your hiccups continue for hours or days, or if they occur more and more frequently, then you should contact your health care provider to see if a less common or more serious cause is possible. Seek prompt medical care if you have hiccups that do not resolve after a few hours, are very painful, make it difficult to breathe, or if you notice that you are having hiccups very often for a reason that is not known.