First published on 19 Dec 2012. Updated on 19 Dec 2012.
The good news is you can forget drinking water, getting a scare or holding your breath: there is a genuine hiccup cure available that works, is freely available and easy to perform. The bad news is that it might be tricky to pull off on a crowded train or during a business meeting.
Hiccups, you see, are the work of the vagus nerve (Latin for “wandering”, same root as “vagrant”), which runs from the brain to the base of your spine and sends your brain information about how most of the things in your chest and abdomen are doing. It also coordinates handy skills like breathing and swallowing, which involves a delicate ballet of muscles working in sync. Sometimes that nerve gets a weird little feedback loop going where signals are sent telling your diaphragm to contract and your vocal chords to shut. Boom: hiccups.
Normally they go away after a little while, but sometimes they don’t – and the cure, it turns out, was found when US physician Dr Francis M Fesmire, faced with a patient who’d been hiccupping uncontrollably for three days, recalled a paper with a treatment for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (where the heart races at the same rate as a hard house record, around 200 bpm), which is also caused by a glitch in the vagus nerve. The paper in question was titled 'Termination of Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia by Digital Rectal Massage.'
You can see where this is going.
It turns out the very, very, very sensitive nerves in the rectum send signals to the vagus nerve that more or less short-circuit that loop. In fact, that whole area is well-nerved and linked up, so Dr Fesmire – who is, clearly, the best doctor in history – also recommends orgasms as a top-flight hiccupping cure, since it floods the vagus nerve with sensation. So if you’ve got hiccups, clearly best thing to do is to have sex that incorporates a good deal of rectal massage: it’s just good medical technique. Thanks, science!