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Study Links Common Reflex to Infant Brain Development

Hiccups are the result of an involuntary spasm of your diaphragm, which is a muscle in your chest that plays a role in breathing. As your diaphragm tightens, the space between your vocal cords closes, leading to the characteristic "hic" sound.


It’s believed that the tightening may serve a purpose, helping to rid your gut of trapped air and draw swallowed food down toward your stomach, but most people find hiccups to be more annoying than useful. And, really, no one has ever pinpointed the reason why hiccups occur — until now. According to a recent study, hiccupping in adults may be a reflex left over from infancy.

In the study, published in Clinical Neurophysiology, researchers examined brain scans of 13 pre-term and full-term babies 30-42 weeks gestational age. They monitored the babies’ brain activity with electrodes and monitored hiccups with sensors places on the babies’ torso. The study showed that diaphragm muscle contractions — caused by hiccups — corresponded with a specific response in the brain’s cortex — three distinct brainwaves. The results suggest that in babies, hiccupping triggers electrical activity in the brain, which could help support development.

Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study's senior author, explained, "The activity resulting from a hiccup may be helping the baby's brain to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles so that eventually breathing can be voluntary controlled by moving the diaphragm up and down.”

He continued, “When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns.’

Based on their findings, the researchers hypothesized that while hiccups can be triggered by certain factors, hiccups in adults may simply be a reflex left over from infancy. For more information on hiccup triggers and how to get rid of hiccups naturally, check out this article.

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