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If It Wasn’t MS, What Caused My Hiccups?

By Matt Cavallo

For those who have been following my story, I had a case of hiccups that lasted for two weeks straight. My first call was to my neurologist because I learned that hiccups can be a symptom of MS, or a rare neurological disorder called neuromyelitis optica. After ruling out NMO with a blood test, the burning question remained, what caused my hiccups?

To give a bit of history here, about a year ago I was suffering from chest pains and shortness of breath. I was concerned so I went to see my primary care physician. She did an electrocardiogram in the office to check for heart conditions and the results came back normal. She also listened to me breathing and said she could hear my stomach on my lungs. She said that was characteristic of a hiatal hernia. She recommended I try to lose weight and take some antacids to hopefully control the chest pains.

It was about this time that I started writing articles on intermittent fasting. The hope was not only to lose weight as I discussed in the article, but the underlying concern I did not discuss in those articles was the potential hiatal hernia, chest pains, and shortness of breaths. I convinced myself the chest pains and shortness of breath were related to the hernia and would go away if I lost weight. The weight loss would also be beneficial to my MS, so I thought it was a win-win. Then, COVID-19 happened.

Pre-COVID-19, I wanted to go see a gastroenterologist to learn more about my hiatal hernia. A gastroenterologist, or GI doctor, is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the stomach and intestines. However, once COVID-19 hit, I tried to stay out of doctors’ offices as best I could and did not pursue talking to a GI doctor about my potential hiatal hernia. I was just going to stick to my weight loss plan and exercise more.

Fast forward a few months and COVID-19 ended my intermittent fasting attempt. I lacked the discipline to stay home all day and keep the intermittent fasting up. My will to exercise diminished as well and I settled into my home office chair and picked up some bad sedentary work-from-home habit. The only time I got up during the workday was to walk into the kitchen to get a snack. By December of 2020, my weight crept up to 245 pounds, which was the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I’m 6 feet 2 inches tall, so I hide it well, but ideally, I should be about 200 pounds or a little less. I felt bloated, uncomfortable, and needed to make change, but always had some excuse of why not to start another diet. 

Then, Dec. 23, 2020, happened. We had an enchilada bake for dinner, which had a kick to it, but wasn’t too spicy. After dinner, I bent down to pick something and when I stood back up, I started hiccupping. The hiccups didn’t stop for the next two weeks.

During that time, my PCP recommended that I talk to a GI specialist. I gave one a call and they recommended an upper endoscopy. An upper endoscopy is a procedure where a camera is inserted down your throat to look at your upper GI tract including your esophagus, stomach, and parts of the small intestines. The first available endoscopy appointment happened to be scheduled on a day when I was giving my Dog Story speech for an online MS Focus event. I went into the procedure and was advised I should probably cancel my talk because I may not being feeling up to it after the procedure and there was a possibility I could have some difficulty speaking. However, we had people scheduled and the show must go on, so I was determined to deliver my Dog Story no matter how I was feeling after the procedure.

The procedure itself took only about 20 minutes and I was under anesthesia for it. They put me in a hospital gown and had me lay on my side and then they had me bite on a plastic mouth guard with a hole in the center for the endoscopy tube. I was then given the anesthesia and next thing I remember I was waking up in the recovery room. In the recovery room, the GI doctor delivered the good news I didn’t have hiatal hernia. He didn’t give a definitive diagnosis, however, as to what caused my two-week long hiccups. He put me on a proton pump inhibitor (acid reflux medicine) and told me to follow up with him in two weeks. 

For now, it appears that the hiccups, and other symptoms, were all caused by acid reflux. It took a long time to determine that because we had to rule out MS, NMO, and a hiatal hernia. In many ways this was good news because I don’t have any new MS symptoms, nor a new diagnosis, just a bad case of acid reflux. I am currently researching acid reflux and will share what I learn in my next article. 

As for my talk, I was not going to let those who registered for the event down. Even though I was a bit groggy from the endoscopy and my voice was hoarse from two weeks of hiccups and having a tube shoved down my throat hours earlier, I delivered a motivational rendition of my Dog Story. You can see it on the MS Focus YouTube channel located here.