Charles Osborne had the Hiccups for 68 Years, From 1922 to 1990

Daven Hiskey 17
Today I found out Charles Osborne (1894-1991) had the hiccups non-stop for approximately 68 years, from 1922 to June 5th, 1990.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the longest bout of the hiccups ever recorded.

His hiccups first started in 1922 while weighing a hog for slaughter.  As he says, “I was hanging a 350 pound hog for butchering.  I picked it up and then I fell down.  I felt nothing, but the doctor said later that I busted a blood vessel the size of a pin in my brain.”  The result being that he damaged a small part of his brain that inhibits the hiccup response, according to Dr. Terence Anthoney who treated Osborne later in life.

In the beginning, Osborne’s hiccups occurred at a rate of around 40 times per minute on average.  Throughout his life, this gradually slowed to about 20 hiccups per minute until they finally stopped mysteriously about one year before his death in 1991.  It is estimated that he hiccuped over 430 million times in his lifetime!

Eventually, he learned to suppress most of the noise of a typical hiccup by breathing methodically between hiccups, which was a technique taught to him by doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

The fact that he kept his sanity through this is amazing enough, but apparently he lead a pretty normal life. He married twice over his long life (lived to the ripe age of 97) with the second wife marrying him despite the hiccups (he did not have the hiccups when he got married the first time).  He also fathered eight children.  Later in life though, he was forced to start grinding any food he ate in a blender due to the fact that it was hard for food to reach his stomach between hiccups.

Miraculously, about a year before Osborne died, his hiccups stopped.  The total number of years of his life he had the hiccups was about 68 years; the total without was about 29 years divided between the first 28 years of his life and the last year.

Bonus Facts:

  • Another dramatic case of the hiccups occurred in 2006 with a man named Christopher Sands who lived in Lincolnshire, England.  Sands’ hiccups lasted around 3 years and robbed him of his career as a musician and vocalist.  His hiccups were so bad at times that he would be unable to breath properly and would occasionally pass out from it. He also had significant difficulty in sleeping.  Sands eventually received media attention in 2009 and doctors in the United States investigated and found he had a tumor in his brain stem that was causing the hiccups.  After removing it, the hiccups went away.
  • In 2007, Jennifer Mee of Florida hiccuped over 50 times per minute for around 35 days straight before the hiccups went away.  This same girl was later arrested for murder in 2010 after taking part in a robbery.
  • The Old English word for hiccup “ælfsogoða” derives from the fact that it was thought hiccups were caused by elves.
  • The word “hiccup” itself is an onomatopoeia that first appeared in the 18th century. Although, as early as the 16th century it was being called a “hickop” or “hicket”.
  • The technical name for a hiccup is a synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF) or singultus.  Singultus derives from the Latin “singult” which means “the act of catching one’s breath while sobbing”.

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17 Comments »

  1. Jared Bond February 27, 2011 at 4:47 am - Reply

    I’ve FELT like I had hiccups for that long.

  2. christopher sands August 14, 2012 at 1:51 am - Reply

    Hi it’s Christopher Sands here (the guy mentioned in your article)
    The United States had nothing to do with my recovery. In fact I received media attention and went to Japan they found the tumour and I had it removed back in Sheffield in the UK.

    I have written a summery of my story here if you are genuinely interested.

    Cheers.
    Chris.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey September 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      @Chsitopher Sands: Awesome. My sources for the “U.S.” bit were from news agencies. Never trust the news!

  3. Joseph Simon December 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Charles Osborne could have been cured. A doctor could have cut the nerves that regulate breathing, and then maintained breathing, with a mechanical respirator.

  4. random August 22, 2013 at 8:41 am - Reply

    @Joseph

    Who wants to live like that?
    Avoid living through a machine as long as you can.

  5. Joseph Simon August 26, 2013 at 9:38 am - Reply

    My response to random is this. If you read the article “Still Hiccuping After 63 Years” “Newsweek” February 18, 1985, you will find that Charles Osborne’s condition was life threatening It is clearly ethically acceptable to put someone on a respirator, to save their life.

    • infinity September 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Still in 85 he was 91 years old.. Surgery would be risky and if that was his major problem, probably better then most can wish for if they make it to that age…

  6. random August 29, 2013 at 2:01 am - Reply

    ethics has nothing to do with this…
    Ever heard of quality of life?

    I can’t truly know what he was living through, but I think smokers would hope you don’t have to carry a respirator or oxygen everywhere.

    I mean would you like the paranoia of your life being in the care of a machine, being tethered to this lifeline that was only as good as 80′s medical technology?

    The machine was perhaps even bulky and heavy. Consider the sharp drop in cell phone size since the 80′s.

    His age would have made the surgery life threatening too.

    So have a better last few years of life, or risk dying prematurely? His call of course.

  7. Joseph Simon August 29, 2013 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    The “Newsweek” article “Still Hiccuping After 63 Years” makes clear that Charles Osborne’s quality of life was worse than that of someone on a respirator.

  8. joyjnn3 November 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    Reader’s Digest published a story of a fellow who suffered through several years of hiccups. The fellow gave up trying to discover what caused the hiccups, and just lived with them. One day, during an non-hiccup-related appointment, his doctor changed his heart medication, and, lo and behold, his hiccups ceased! They figured that they must have been a reaction to his former heart medication.

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