Hiccups are the sudden involuntary contractions of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. They are generally benign and self-limited, however, in some cases they are chronic and debilitating. There are approximately 4000 admissions for hiccups each year in the United States. The hiccup reflex arc is composed of three components: (1) an afferent limb including the phrenic, vagus, and sympathetic nerves, (2) the central processing unit in the midbrain, and (3) the efferent limb carrying motor fibers to the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Hiccups may be idiopathic, organic, psychogenic, or medication-induced. Data obtained largely from case studies of hiccups either induced by or treated with medications have led to hypotheses on the neurotransmitters involved. The central neurotransmitters implicated in hiccups include GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, while the peripheral neurotransmitters are epinephrine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and histamine. Further studies are needed to characterize the nature of neurotransmitters at each anatomical level of the reflex arc to better target hiccups pharmacologically.
Keywords: Hiccup; Neurotransmitters; Therapies.