Dr. Kristie Leong
What would life be like without a little humor? It’s hard to deny the many health benefits of a good laugh. Laughing is a good way to reduce stress - and studies show it lowers levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine that cause blood pressure and blood sugar to rise. Laughter also boosts the immune system – and burns calories at the same time. But does laughing too hard have health risks? You may have heard the old cliche, “I almost died laughing”. Is it true? Can you die from laughing?
Can You Die From Laughing?
Surprisingly, the answer is “yes” - but it’s unlikely. Looking back through history, you can find examples of people who literally died from laughter. Deaths from laughing date all the way back to the third century B.C. when an ancient philosopher died laughing after giving his donkey wine – and becoming overly amused at the way he weaved around afterward.
An even more unusual case of death by laughter occurred when a Danish man laughed so hard while watching the movie A Fish Called Wanda that he went into cardiac arrest – never to recover. There could certainly be more unpleasant ways to leave this earth.
How Can You Die From Laughing?
If laughter is so therapeutic, how could a person die doing it? Rest assured, it’s not common to die laughing - despite the cliché. In the few cases where it’s happened, the people who passed on likely had some underlying pathology that contributed to their demise.
Can You Die From Laughing – or at Least Pass Out?
There’s a condition called laughter-induced syncope that causes a person to pass out when they laugh too hard. This is very similar to fainting from coughing. When a person coughs or laughs too hard it can be difficult to take a deep breath. This causes a drop in blood pressure and decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, which can lead to fainting. In and of itself, this isn’t usually life-threatening, but there’s the risk of injury during the faint. Fainting and sustaining a hard bump to the head could be fatal. The good news? Laughter-induced syncope is very rare.
It’s also possible that a person with advanced heart disease might experience a rapid drop in blood pressure during hard laughter that could be life-threatening, but there aren’t a lot of cases of this in the literature.
Can You Die From Laughing: The Bottom Line?
Yes, there are cases of this happening down through the ages, but these instances are few and far between. Overall, laughter is still the best medicine, and it can help you live longer - as long as you don’t die doing it. Keep a smile on your face, and don’t stop laughing.
Peter Bowler and Jonathan Green. What a Way to Go, Deaths with a Difference.
Environmental Graffiti.com. “When Laughter Turns Deadly”
Journal of Medical Case Reports 2008, 2:197.
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