Bolsonaro’s hospitalized for hiccups |

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It might be the most darkly interesting way a world leader’s life has been threatened since George W. Bush choked on that pretzel.

On Wednesday, the office of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he has been hospitalized “to undergo tests and to investigate the cause of the hiccups” he had been experiencing for 10 straight days. He started complaining of hiccups after undergoing dental surgery on July 3, and blamed them on the drugs he had been prescribed. He also referenced the hiccups publicly in a social media address the next week.

In Bolsonaro’s case, the chronic hiccups may have indicated an obstruction in the intestine. “He ended up being intubated to keep him from breathing in liquid coming from his stomach,” the far-right president’s son Flavio told Brazilian radio station Jovem Pan.

Bolsonaro was stabbed in the abdomen several weeks before Brazil’s 2018 election, an event many commentators say helped him win the presidency. The stabbing perforated his intestine, and he’s undergone several surgeries since.

What exactly are hiccups?
For the most part, hiccups, known medically as singultus — derived from the Latin word “singult” meaning ‘to catch one’s breath while sobbing’ — are completely normal and usually harmless.

Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — the muscle that acts as a boundary between the chest and the abdomen. When your diaphragm acts normally, it helps you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

But for any number of reasons, the diaphragm can contract out of rhythm, closing your larynx and vocal cords. Air is then pushed into your lungs, which causes a “gasp”-like reaction. Hence, hiccups.

Why do we get hiccups?
Eating too fast, drinking a lot of alcohol or carbonated drinks, swallowing air, and stress are all possible — and common — reasons for hiccups. But in some cases, health conditions can contribute to these annoying diaphragm spasms.

Should we worry about hiccups?
There’s no reason to worry about your hiccups, unless of course, they last a really long time. Usually, while it may feel like they go on for hours, hiccups come and go within minutes. The Mayo Clinic suggests seeing a doctor if hiccups last more than 48 hours.

In more serious cases, other systems in the body can lead to persistent hiccups. For example, if there’s damage to the vagus or phrenic nerves, which work with the diaphragm, you might be plagued with relentless hiccups. Those nerves could be irritated by laryngitis, pressure on your eardrum, acid reflux, or a cyst or tumour in the neck.

Damage to the central nervous system can also cause chronic hiccups and include severe problems in the brain or spinal cord, including traumatic brain injuries, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, encephalitis, hydrocephalus, neurosyphilis, stroke, or tumours.

Some of the other serious possible causes of long-term hiccups include kidney failure, arteriovenous malformation, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and some cancers. Studies have also linked persistent hiccups as indicators of blood clots or heart attacks.

Wait, didn’t that happen on Grey’s Anatomy? 
Sort of. In a memorable 2007 episode, Meredith’s step-mother, played by ‘80s icon Mare Winningham, dies from an infection she contracts during surgery to fix her chronic hiccups, which are caused by acid reflux.

Hiccups cures
While there are lots of home remedies that people claim to be effective at stopping hiccups, there is no solid science backing any one “cure.” However, according to the U.K.’s NHS, some things to try include breathing into a paper bag, pulling your knees up to your chest and leaning forward, sipping ice-cold water, swallowing some granulated sugar, biting on a lemon or tasting vinegar and holding your breath for a short time. Drinking alcohol or fizzy drinks and chewing gum are among the things not recommended if you are trying to end hiccups.

What about Bolsonaro?
President Jair Bolsonaro is under medical observation with the possibility of surgery in the coming days. In addition to a history that now includes never-ending hiccups, he also has a long legacy of promoting torturedenigrating women, immigrants, Black people, LGBTQ people, and human rights; and will go before Brazil’s Supreme Court for rhetoric that prosecutors say incited rape and violence. Brazil, with the world’s second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, behind only the U.S., has seen thousands of people across the country demonstrate against his handling of the pandemic.

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