tampabay.com

Just (hic) make (hic) them (hic) stop

A St. Petersburg teen has been living with hiccups for weeks. She has seen doctors and tried "cures." Nothing has worked.

By Mary Jane Park
Published February 15, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - She has tried holding her breath. Drinking water from the far side of the glass. Putting sugar under her tongue. Sipping pickle juice. Breathing into a paper bag.

But none of those home remedies has helped 15-year-old Jennifer Mee, who started hiccupping three weeks ago and hasn't stopped.

Something like 50 times a minute, she hiccups, a staccato sensation that resembles a smoke alarm with a dying battery. Her mother, Rachel Robidoux, thinks Jennifer sounds like a barking chihuahua.

It was kind of funny at first, but now it's become much more than an annoyance.

"It's actually really stressful," Jennifer said. "Really, there's nothing much I can do except stay home."

Strangers approach them at Wal-Mart, trying to scare the hiccups away. They offer prayer and healing hands and folk remedies. All unsuccessful.

"She just wants to be a normal teenager again," Robidoux said.

Jennifer, a ninth-grader at Northeast High School, was in first-period science class when the spasms began.

After about 15 nonstop minutes, she went to the campus medical clinic. The staff there worked with her for five hours, and still she hiccuped.

That was Jan. 23.

In the weeks since, she has seen a pediatrician, a cardiologist and a neurologist. She has had blood tests, a CT scan and an MRI. She had an allergic reaction to one medication, which triggered hives.

One doctor surmised that Jennifer has a tic disorder, perhaps even Tourette's syndrome, but Robidoux said her daughter does not twitch or have inappropriate outbursts, two common symptoms of the condition.

Hiccups, involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, have a variety of causes ranging from sudden excitement or stress to eating too much too fast.

As strange as it may sound, there are three classifications of hiccups. A regular bout is anything up to two days. If they last longer, they're called persistent hiccups. More than a month, they're deemed intractable. As many as 100 diseases have been reported to cause hiccups.

The longest case on record lasted 69 years and five months. Sufferer Charles Osborne of Iowa married twice, had eight children and lived into his 90s, all while hiccuping every 1 1/2 seconds.

Jennifer's cease only when she slumbers, and only with medicinal help. She alternates between Valium, a prescription antianxiety drug, and Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Her chest and hips hurt, sore from the constant spasms. She is cautious when showering; she doesn't want to inhale water and choke. She eats foods like applesauce, Jell-O and ice cream, things she can swallow quickly between hiccups.

She tried to go back to school the day after her bout began, but was sent home. Tutors now come to her house.

She has had little contact with friends. She doesn't go out much, and Robidoux said her daughter worries that the hiccups will persist so long that no one will want to marry her.

It's so depressing, Jennifer says, that she's considered jumping off the Sunshine Skyway, just to make it stop.

That's not surprising to Dr. Melissa Teitelman, a gastroenterologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

A prolonged occurrence "can be pretty miserable," she said. "People become suicidal."

There are many causes for hiccups, but Jennifer's family seems to be on the right path toward exploring medical diagnosis and treatment, said Dr. Worth Boyce, a gastroenterologist and head of the Center for Swallowing Disorders at the University of South Florida.

Jennifer's mother said she called the newspaper in hopes that someone, anyone, will be able to help.

"I'm just looking for some answers," she said, "where somebody's gone through this. At this point, we're willing to do anything."

Times news researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Mary Jane Park can be reached at park@sptimes.com or 727 893-8267.

Fast Facts:

What you said

We asked readers to share their hiccup home remedies on our Web site tampabay.com. Here's a sample:

- Drink real grapefruit juice.

- Take a glass of water, put a butter knife blade up to where it lies on the bridge of your nose, and drink until you can't anymore.

- Cover a glass of water with a dish towel and drink the water through the cloth.

- Gargle saltwater.

- Try filling your mouth with water, pressing the little triangular points on your ears (beside the hole) as hard as you can, and swallow the water while still pressing.