Next time you have a bout of the hiccups, it’s frightening to wonder: What if this never stops? Because there are a few chronic hiccup sufferers out there who have to grapple with what is usually quick and benign, day and night. The New York Times has more, including some good news on the horizon:
Because gastrointestinal problems can cause hiccups, doctors often try drugs that act on the digestive tract. But for Mr. Shafer nothing had worked.
Dr. Payne and his colleagues tried giving Mr. Shafer an injection of anesthesia to numb a nerve involved in breathing. That, too, failed. But about 10 minutes later, Dr. Payne recalled, Mr. Shafer’s voice grew hoarse and, to the surprise of all present, the hiccups subsided, at least until the injection wore off. What had happened, the team reasoned, was that the anesthetic had migrated and had temporarily blocked the activity of another nerve, the vagus, and that was what had quelled the spasms.
Many folk remedies for hiccups – drinking cold water, eating a spoonful of sugar, stimulating the back of the throat and throwing up – are actually forms of vagal stimulation, Dr. Tiel said, adding, “Many of them work, to a certain extent at least.”
He also noted that a small number of patients who received vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy developed temporary cases of hiccups, indicating a possible overlap between the nervous pathways affected by the treatment and those involved in the hiccups.
There was reason to believe that the treatment, an intense and repeated form of vagal stimulation, might help Mr. Shafer. After the device had been implanted and activated, Mr. Shafer’s hiccups disappeared.
The device in question is a vagal nerve stimulator designed and approved to treat epilepsy, and last year depression was approved as well.
More at the NYT…
Flashbacks: VNS therapy