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Management of hiccups in palliative care patients


Persistent hiccups are a frustrating experience for palliative care patients, and can have a profound impact on their quality of life. This article provides an evidence-based approach overview of the causes and treatment of this not infrequently debilitating condition for such patients, with a management algorithm. In situations where no readily reversible cause is identified, or where simple physical manoeuvres, such as breath holding have failed, a systematic approach is required. Hiccups can be broadly divided into central and peripheral types. These respond differently to pharmacological intervention. The drug of choice for central causes of persistent hiccups is baclofen, with metoclopramide recommended as the first choice for peripheral causes. Midazolam may be useful in cases of terminal illness. Interventional procedures such as vagal or phrenic nerve block or stimulation should be considered in patients who are refractory to medications. The management of persistent hiccups still presents an ongoing clinical challenge however, requiring further research on pathophysiology and treatment strategies. Multinational randomised controlled trials to evaluate and compare both current and new medications or procedures to better manage this difficult condition are suggested as a means of reaching this goal.

  • palliative care
  • hiccup
  • persistent
  • intractable
  • management
  • terminal care
  • hospice

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