Physiology: Interrupted Impulses

A hiccup is an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm that causes an abrupt intake of breath. An instant later, and also involuntarily, the opening in the larnyx (the glottis) closes and cuts off the flow of air, thus creating the audible hic. To most persons, it is merely annoying. But if it continues for days, it can be seriously weakening, as it was in 1954 for Pope Pius XII. More common and at least as worrisome is the effect on patients undergoing surgery, especially on the torso. The spasms complicate the surgeon's...

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