[originally published in KCN, July 2001]
Hiccups. Who hasn’t had them? And who hasn’t heard of at least a dozen ways to cure them? Perhaps you are accustomed to the popular home remedies of sudden fright, holding the breath, breathing into a paper bag, inducing sneezing with pepper, or drinking water with baking soda from the wrong side of the cup while the ears are covered tightly. Or if you are well versed in the various medical treatments available, you’ll know that amongst the accepted procedures there are an assortment of medications, the inhalation of ether through the nose, the popular digital rectal massage, tongue traction, uvula stroking, and surgical excision of the phrenic nerve (which isn’t always a wise idea as this procedure literally paralyzes the diaphragm). Well, I’ve got a new one to add to your list, and it’s one that a New York woman will be forever grateful for: chiropractic.
The story of this 58-year old New York Hiccuper began with a bout of pneumonia for which she sought care with her family physician. She was treated appropriately. It was after her pneumonia symptoms subsided for one week that her hiccups began. Little did she know they would last for 10 days! In the beginning when it was clear that her hiccups were not going away, she returned to her family M.D. and was prescribed several drugs on a trial basis (an antivomiting drug, an antihistamine, a sedative, and three antipsychotic drugs) all of which produced zero improvement in her prolonged hiccuping. Psychiatric counseling was recommended to the patient.
Distraught and desperate, the patient paid a visit to chiropractor Michael Diamond on day ten. Knowing that an incidence of prolonged hiccups such as this is rare and could signal a greater underlying disease process, Dr. Diamond launched into a comprehensive history and multi-system physical examination. He reported that the patient conveyed that since the onset of the hiccups she had lost ten pounds, was feeling depressed, and was having difficulty with sleeping and eating. The chiropractor remarked that during the physical exam the patient was in moderate distress, as she was hiccuping continuously throughout the procedure.
Amongst the most notable findings of Dr. Diamond’s examination was the detection of vertebral subluxation complexes in the neck and between the shoulder blades. The vertebral subluxation complex is a condition in which the bones of the spine lose their normal motion or position which often causes pain, and has a negative effect on joint movement, nerve transmission, muscular balance, connective tissue, and joint health. His findings were notable because it is between the neck vertebrae that the nerves (phrenic nerves) that control the diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle) originate. These nerves also play an important role in the hiccup reflex, as do the nerves that exit out of vertebra between the shoulder blades (sympathetic chain ganglia).
A chiropractic adjustment was rendered to the malfunctioning vertebral joints once in the morning and then again in the evening that very day. After each adjustment, the patient reported a 45-minute interval of complete hiccup relief. That evening the patient slept through the night for the first time in ten days and awakened symptom-free the next morning. She was followed up with several more visits and is reportedly hiccup-free three years later.
The exact mechanism responsible for hiccups has never really been well understood– it certainly wasn’t during the time of Hippocrates and continues to stump our modern docs of today. However, we do know that the hiccup is an involuntary reflex controlled by the respiratory center in the brain stem. The problem is we have no idea what purpose the reflex serves, but we have observed it in fetuses and most mammals (we have so much to learn).
So what is Dr. Diamond’s explanation for this miraculous cure? Allow me to quote him directly.
“In this case, it appears that the bout of pneumonia set up a viscerosomatic reflex, which precipitated and maintained the hiccups. The subluxation complexes in the vicinity of the phrenic nerve may have resulted from the bombardment of afferent input from the diseased respiratory structures to the diaphragm muscle motor neurons. There are sensitized interneurons in the phrenic nucleus and brainstem reticular formation that are ‘programmed’ to perpetuate the hiccup cycle automatically without supracortical control. The chiropractic adjustment theoretically presynaptically inhibited these sensitized interneurons and ceased the hiccup cycle.”
Well said, fellow colleague — just don’t expect me to translate it into lay speak. My guess is that his grateful patient really doesn’t care how it worked. She just knows that it did. And it is undoubtedly at the top of her hiccup cure list. Just don’t tell poor Mr. Charles Osborne of Anthon, Iowa who finally stopped his hiccuping marathon of 68 years. Sure he holds the world’s record, but did he really want to?