Hiccups in palliative care

Key points about hiccups and palliative care

  • Hiccups are caused by an uncontrollable contraction of your diaphragm.
  • Your diaphragm is the muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest. The contraction causes your vocal cords to close briefly, resulting in the hiccup sound.
  • Hiccups can be very distressing.
  • There are many causes that can contribute to hiccups if you have a terminal illness.
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There are many causes that can contribute to hiccups if you have a terminal illness. 

It can be caused by the terminal illness you are living with, eg, liver cancer, or other medical conditions that happen at the same time. 

Common causes of hiccups in people living with a terminal illness include:

Your doctor may ask you some questions to find out the possible causes of your hiccups. They may also examine you. 

Some tests may also be done, depending on what your doctor thinks is causing your hiccups. These include:

If you have a medical condition, or any obvious causes of your hiccups are found, treatment will focus on the condition or cause. 

You may have many health professionals such as doctors, nurses, a palliative care specialist or a cancer specialist involved in your care, as it requires treatment from a multidisciplinary team. 

Treatment of hiccups comprises non-medicine and medicine treatment.

Non-medicine treatment

These simple measures can be effective, especially if they have worked for you previously:

  • Sip iced water or swallow crushed ice.
  • Breathe into a paper bag or hold your breath for a short time. 
  • Use a swab to rub your soft palate.
  • Pull your knee up to your chest and lean forward.


Common medicines that may be used to treat hiccups include:

Sometimes, hiccups can be difficult to manage despite having treatment. 

Apps reviewed by Healthify

You may find it useful to look at some Swallowing difficulty apps, Long-term condition apps, and Pain management apps.

Living with hiccups and other symptoms of terminal illness can be frustrating. It can also be challenging to do things physically. Talk through your feelings with your family/whānau and friends to get the support you need. 

If you need extra help in daily activities such as washing, dressing or cooking, your doctor may be able to arrange this for you. 

Below are some support services and information for people affected by cancer and their family/whānau:

Emotions and cancer(external link) Cancer Society, NZ
How we can help(external link) Cancer Society, NZ
NZ cancer services - find a hospital/service near you(external link) Healthpoint, NZ
More cancer support groups

The following links provide further information about hiccups. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations. 

Managing the symptoms of cancer(external link) Macmillan Cancer Support, UK
Hiccups(external link) NHS, UK
Hiccups(external link) Patient Info, UK


Swallowing difficulty apps
Long-term condition apps
Pain management apps


  1. Hiccups in palliative care(external link) Auckland Regional HealthPathways, NZ
  2. Hiccups(external link) Scottish Palliative Care Guidelines, UK

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Jarna Standen, Registered Nurse, Mercy Hospice, Auckland

Last reviewed:

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