A trip to vagus

Dear Matthew Alice:

Why on earth do I get hiccups immediately after eating starchy foods? Bread, pasta, potatoes, tortilla chips... anything with lots of starch will do it! I have friends who report the same phenomenon. Please tell us, how can something going down your esophagus affect your diaphragm muscle?

-- K. B., the net

The answer is your vagus nerve (your throat and stomach), or maybe your phrenic nerve (diaphragm), or any of the feeder nerves from your chest, stomach, or diaphragm. Staff quack Dr. Doctor says hiccup questions are great because nobody really knows why we have them, what possible use they serve now or might have served in our murky past, what starts them, or what reliably stops them. They're like this rebel phenomenon that suddenly attacks and can be a pain to get rid of. People have had unrelenting hiccups for years. Best guesses for the origin of hiccups are an overfull stomach, swallowing a lot of air, swallowing dry (starchy) foods that don't travel to our stomachs quite as fast as they might, drinking carbonated beverages, or a glob of food stuck in the throat impinging on a nerve, all or any of which might irritate the vagus or phrenic nerves and set our diaphragms into spasm. By the way, the stimulation of the diaphragm forces the gulp of air, then the glottis immediately snaps closed on the top of the airway to produce the "hic."

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