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Why do we hiccup? - John Cameron

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The longest recorded case of hiccups lasted for 68 years … and was caused by a falling hog. While that level of severity is extremely uncommon, most of us are no stranger to an occasional case of the hiccups. But what causes these ‘hics’ in the first place? John Cameron takes us into the diaphragm to find out.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator John Cameron
  • Collaborator Ama Y Adi-Dako
  • Director Jonathan Trueblood
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Although the origin of hiccups is unknown, the clinical perspective has been fairly well documented. For example, the website of the National Health Service in the UK includes a list of possibly causes of short-term and long-term (chronic) hiccups in humans, as well as a list of medications that have been used in persistent cases. 

For the evolutionary perspective, a great summary of human ancestry can be found in Neal Shubin's 2008 book, Your Inner Fish: A journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. This account has also appeared as a PBS documentary. Take a look at the accompanying website for lots of resources and information about your inner fish. A number of brief summaries of the hypothesis connecting hiccups and early vertebrate ancestry have also appeared online including Why We Hiccup and Why Do We Hiccup?

But for a detailed scientific explanation of the two hypotheses about the origin of hiccups presented in this video, we turn to the original literature. The group that has done extensive exploration of the 'phylogenetic hypothesis' is that of Christian Straus and colleagues in Alberta. A link to their article’s abstract is here.

The later hypothesis regarding the possibility that the hiccup is now used as a 'glorified burp' in mammals was best explained by Daniel Howes in this article: Hiccups: A new explanation for the mysterious reflex.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator John Cameron
  • Collaborator Ama Y Adi-Dako
  • Director Jonathan Trueblood
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Narrator Addison Anderson