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Hiccups: a key to brain development
Almost everyone knows it: you eat too hastily or too spicy, drink too quickly or too cold, and off you go - the hiccups. What is often amusing for others can quickly get annoying. But why do we have hiccups at all?
The reasons why we sometimes suffer from hiccups have so far been unclear. A research team from University College London developed a new theory of how and why hiccups develop during a study on newborns. The results were recently presented in the specialist journal "Clinical Neurophysiology".
15 minutes of hiccups a day
Premature babies are particularly prone to hiccups. You spend around 15 minutes a day with the reflex. Even in the womb, the unborn child begins to hiccup in the ninth week of pregnancy. This makes hiccups one of the earliest established activity patterns in humans. UCL researchers examined 13 healthy newborns with hiccups to investigate the cause.
Hiccups are likely to have a reason for development
"The reasons for our hiccups are not entirely clear, but there may be a reason for development because fetuses and newborns have hiccups so often," explains the lead author of the Kimberley Whitehead study. For the study, the baby's brain activity was recorded with EEG electrodes, while motion sensors on the upper body of the infants detected when they had hiccups.
Hiccups as a learning function
The research team examined the baby's brain signals and found that a large wave of brain signals is triggered with every hiccup reflex. The researchers conclude that this helps the newborn to regulate his breathing. The contractions of the diaphragm muscle caused a pronounced reaction in the cerebral cortex. This multisensory input is important to develop brain connections.
A milestone in brain development
"The brain activity resulting from hiccups can help the baby learn how to monitor the respiratory muscles, so that breathing can eventually be controlled voluntarily by moving the diaphragm up and down," summarizes study leader Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi. Because at birth, the circuits that process body sensations are not yet fully developed. The establishment of such networks is a crucial development milestone for babies.
Why do adults have hiccups?
"Our results have prompted us to wonder whether adult hiccups, which seem to be mostly troublesome, can actually be caused by a spastic reflex that is left over from infancy," said Kimberley Whitehead. So, apparently, hiccups seem to be a surviving reflex from infancy, triggered by certain situations. For tips on getting rid of hiccups, see the article: Home Remedies for Hiccups. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- University College London: Newborn baby hiccups could be key to brain development (accessed: November 14, 2019), ucl.ac.uk
- Lorenzo Fabrizi, Kimberley Whitehead, Laura Jones, u .: Event-related potentials following contraction of respiratory muscles in pre-term and full-term infants Author links open overlay panel, Clinical Neurophysiology, 2019, sciencedirect.com