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Weird Things the Body Does – and Why!

Rush Copley Medical Group physicians explain a few of the strange things our body does

The human body is a wonder in its design, a complex machine capable of everything from rational thought to fending off disease. It’s also capable of some pretty strange things – some of them forewarning disease, while others are just plain involuntary oddities with no conceivable purpose (except to leave us scratching our heads). Rush Copley Medical Group physicians explain a few of them.


Hiccups are common and usually temporary. Very rarely are they so persistent and intractable that they lead to health issues. By definition, a hiccup is an involuntary and intermittent spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm and rib muscles, which leads to the sudden intake of air and abrupt closure of the glottis. Hiccup bouts can occur due to gastric distension from overeating, carbonated beverages, chewing gum (swallowing too much air), smoking, endoscopy due to air insufflation, sudden change in gastrointestinal temperature or excess alcohol intake. It is the more persistent and intractable hiccups, which generally occur due to a serious underlying disease, that needs further examination. Some of these issues include vascular diseases, central nervous system diseases, intracranial neoplasms, GERD, duodenal ulcer and malignancy. Treating bouts of hiccups involves first trying physical maneuvers, including holding ones breath, gargling, sipping cold water, swallowing dry sugar (to stimulate the uvula), pressing the eyes (to increase vagal stimulation), pulling knees to the chest or leaning forward (to contract the irritated diaphragm). If none of these tactics work, medications can then be prescribed.
– Neha Sahni, MD, Gastroenterology

Brain Freeze

There’s nothing worse than having a refreshing cool snack to quench your hunger and having it be followed by brain freeze. Brain freeze is that intensely painful but usually brief head pain that happens after you eat or drink something cold – ice cold drinks, ice cream, and popsicles are common culprits. While we aren’t completely sure what happens, we’re pretty sure it has to do with a cold snack hitting the roof of the mouth and causing blood vessels to constrict and expand rapidly. These blood vessels trigger pain receptors in the roof of the mouth to send a signal to the nearby brain and cause that discomfort. It is usually after consuming a cold food item particularly quickly and having it hit the roof of your mouth before it can get warmed by the tongue.

To help stop or prevent the pain you can try a couple things:

  • Allow cold food and drink to warm briefly on your tongue before they hit the roof of your mouth
  • Consume cold foods/drinks slowly in small bites/sips
  • Place your warm tongue on the roof of your mouth to help the pain
  • Tilt your head backwards for 10 to 15 seconds once the pain starts
  • Consume something warmer than the cold item after the pain begins (to warm the area)

For the most part, brain freeze is painful and annoying, but, it isn’t harmful and won’t leave any lasting effects. People who get migraines might find them more bothersome as they may trigger headaches to come on. If you have a brain freezes that last longer than 5 to 10 minutes or is associated with other headache symptoms, making an appointment with your doctor might be wise.
– Nicole Keller, DO, Pediatrics


People with healthy sleep patterns spend about a third of their lives sleeping. However, those of us who suffer from common sleep disorders might spend significantly less – or more – time sleeping. In other cases, your sleep could be disrupted by your partner’s sleep disorder.

Over 90 million people in the U.S. are impacted by snoring, an ailment that prevents a proper night’s rest and, in many cases, causes friction with loved ones. Snoring occurs as a result of a narrowing or obstruction of the airway during sleep. When we sleep, the muscles of the airway – including the mouth, nose and throat—relax, and the passages may become smaller. Breath moving through these narrowed passages causes the soft tissues of the airway to vibrate, which creates the sounds of snoring.

Of all sleep disorders, snoring is likely the most common. The underlying causes of snoring range from benign issues such as sleep position to more serious problems such as obesity. Allergens can also induce snoring by causing irritation and swelling in your throat and nose. Statistics indicate that about 20 to 30 percent of women snore, compared to about 40 to 50 percent of men. If you’re not sure whether you snore or not, ask your partner, as they are likely aware. The most important step to stopping snoring is to identify its cause. The resulting sleep disruption doesn’t just affect you – it can keep your family awake, as well. If your family is complaining about your snoring, or if you experience unexplained fatigue and sleepiness, it’s possible your body isn’t getting the kind of deep sleep it truly needs. If simple fixes such as changing sleep position or cutting down on alcohol don’t help, you may need to visit a sleep specialist.
– Sujay Bangarulingam, MD, Pulmonology

Fingers Prune

It is a hot summer day in Chicago and you have decided to plop yourself in the local community swimming pool. Everything looks perfect; the summer hat you’re wearing, the new swimsuit you picked up on sale at Marshalls, and the new manicure you spent $30 on and was worth every penny. You lift your hand to admire the new OPI color on your nails (perfectly titled- A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find) when you notice your beautiful manicured hands are ruined by the shriveled up, prune like appearance of your fingers! Why, why why?

There might actually be a purpose for why the skin of our fingers and toes tend to wrinkle when submerged in water for a period of time. One theory is that this increases our grip on objects that are wet. A study published in Biology Letters showed that participants were faster at picking up wet objects when they had submerged their hands in water for 30 minutes, compared to when their hands were dry. Unfortunately we still don’t completely understand the mechanism of how this occurs but a theory that is becoming more popular is something called “digital vasoconstriction.”  This means our blood vessels in our fingers and toes narrow when submerged in water causing the upper layer of our skin to wrinkle.  All of this is thought to be triggered by an involuntary nervous system reaction. That manicure doesn’t look all that bad now, does it?
– Sarah Ahmed, MD, Family Medicine

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