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    Tuesday, May 25, 2004

    Hiccups: How long can a person hiccup? A very long time:

    John Francis Crosland has been hiccuping for more than 40 years. Every day since John F. Kennedy was first in office as president, Crosland has gulped or gasped or had that catch in his throat.

    “I just hiccup all the time. A lot of times I be doing something and hiccuping, and I don’t pay them no attention,” he said. “If you want to know the truth, it don’t too much matter. It worries other people more than it worries me.”

    ....The Guinness Book of World Records lists an Iowa man, Charles Osborne, as having them the longest: 69 years. Osborne was slaughtering a hog in 1922 when he first began hiccuping, and he is said to have hiccuped at the rate of 40 times a minute until February 1990.

    Why do some of these tics of the diaphragm last so long? A lot of times we don't know:

    Doctors, he said, never told him what caused the hiccups. Doctors, he said, never told him why they settle quietly in his throat when he’s calm and relaxed. But he has a hunch: He attributes them to a car accident.

    “As far as I can remember, I weren’t sick or nothing,” he said. “When I were 15 years old, I was in a car wreck. The car turned over. It threw both of us out.”

    A friend had borrowed an uncle’s brand new Ford automobile, and Crosland went along for the ride out in the country. They were running too fast when the car turned a curve, and both young men were thrown out, into a field. Neither was hurt too bad.

    But Crosland said the jugular vein on the right side of his neck swelled up “twice the size of an egg.” Even now, when he gets to hiccuping, he can massage the vein and it slows them down.

    Once he gets tired, excited, upset or whenever he gets to talking too fast, the hiccups come faster. It can reach a point where, with all the gurgling, he sounds more like he’s stuttering. Sometimes it’s like he loses his breath, like he’s got asthma.

    He's probably right about the accident being the cause. Head trauma can cause intractable hiccups. So can damage to the phrenic nerve or vagus nerve, both of which run through the neck in close proximity to the jugular vein.

    Whether they're intractable or short-lived, they're difficult to treat, but they have an interesting etymology. The commonly used "hiccup" is onomatopoeic, in English and in French. But the medical term, "singultus" is from the Latin for "convulsive sob," which is also how it was described in classical Greek, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, and even Old English (before they were influenced by the French.)

    posted by Sydney on 5/25/2004 08:28:00 AM 0 comments


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