This usually benign, uncomfortable phenomenon generally passes of its own accord with no treatment. It is due to rhythmical contraction of the diaphragm (the large muscle dividing the chest from the abdominal cavity), due to stimulation of the phrenic nerve.
If prolonged, it may produce considerable discomfort. Often anxieties and a psychogenic overlay may produce it and prolong it. If it persists for any length of time (days, weeks and even months of continual hiccupping have been recorded), medical assistance should be sought. The doctor will discover if there are any underlying pathological causes, for some do exist. However, the majority is innocuous and general nervous system sedation is the measure recommended.
Considerable relief may be gained with total mental relaxation, and this is now widely practiced by some doctors. Home remedies are based on temporarily diverting the patient’s attention, and so checking the reflex cycle. A sudden fright, seemingly purposeless actions as sipping cold water, back slapping, placing ice down the back, blowing into a paper bag, holding the breath, applying a painful stimulus, eating a sliver of lemon (including the rind)—these have all been tried with varying degrees of success. Prolonged symptoms are unusual, and with sleep the majority of these tend to cease.