Imagine being unable to stop hiccuping. Not for a few minutes, or even hours. What if you hiccuped almost non-stop for weeks on end? That would be pretty horrible, huh?
Jennifer Mee doesn't have to imagine what it would be like. The 15-year-old from St. Petersburg, Fla., suddenly and inexplicably began hiccuping during first-period science class on Jan. 23 and has only stopped during periods of sleep or when she's talking. She told TODAY's Meredith Vieira that the constant contractions have become painful and are affecting the quality of her life.
"I can't do what a normal teenager would do," said Jennifer, appearing on the show on Friday with her mother and a physician. "I can't go to a movie like I would like to do every Friday. I can't go somewhere out in public without people staring and saying something. I've had people ask me if I was drinking or if I was pregnant."
Jennifer stopped going to school because of her condition. And she spends most of her time trying to sleep, with the help of Benadryl and Valium. During waking hours, she and her mother, Rachel Robidoux, visit doctors and try home remedies.
They've tried almost everything. Sugar, guzzling water, lemon, peanut butter, pickle juice, bitters, prescription medicines — anything they can think of to quiet the spastic nerve endings that doctors believe cause the flex action.
"No ideas as to what's happening yet?" Vieira asked.
"Nothing yet. That's why we are here," Robidoux said. "We're hoping someone can come up with a solution."
Viewers try to help
TODAY asked viewers to submit their tried-and-true hiccup cures and the show was quickly inundated with more than 10,000 e-mails. Jennifer liked the suggestion of massage therapy, but bristled at a recommendation that she try acupuncture. She tried many of the home remedies, and even one readers did not suggest — a hug outside on the Plaza in 15-degree weather from country-music star Keith Urban, another TODAY guest Friday.
The medical profession has theories about the cause of hiccups, but nothing is definitive. Experts are baffled about why some medicines and home remedies work for some people, but not others.
"It's ironic. Hiccups are so common, almost all of us have them, but we don't really know what causes it," said Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist at the New York Medical Center.
Jennifer remains hopeful, and confident, that either she or doctors will find out what is causing her hiccups soon. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Information Center, chronic hiccuping is rare. There have been cases, however, where people have learned to live with the condition. In one extreme case, a patient hiccuped continually for 60 years.
— John Springer, contributor for TODAY
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints