Can You Die of Laughter?

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While laughter provides plenty of health benefits, laughing uncontrollably for a longer duration carries health risk for individuals with heart ailments.

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Laugh your way to good health. This is one piece of advice that often works in improving overall well-being. A good hearty laugh can work wonders in relieving stress. There is no better feeling than being with someone who makes you laugh. However, it appears that laughing too hard continuously may not be as good as it seems.

The British Medical Journal in its recent report highlights the ill-effects of excessive laughing in people suffering from various medical conditions. The research was carried out by University of Birmingham’s R. E. Ferner and Oxford University’s J. K. Aronson.

  • A normal laugh where there is no excessive sound is indeed good for the cardiovascular system. However, excessive laughter causes the blood pressure to increase substantially, putting too much pressure on the heart. A defective heart due to medical conditions like coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure (CHF) may not be able to handle such excessive pressure.
  • Intense laughter also increases the heart rate considerably, which patients with heart conditions are unlikely to tolerate for long. To put it simply, a faulty heart might not be able to sustain the increased heart rate associated with hard laughter.
  • Excessive laughter can also be fatal to people affected with cerebral aneurysm. Laughing out vigorously can considerably increase intracranial pressure (ICP refers to pressure inside the skull). This can cause the aneurysm to burst, which may lead to stroke. Even people with other neurological disorders are advised to avoid uncontrollable laughter to keep complications at bay.

Laughter-induced Asthma

  • People suffering from asthma should also stay away from laughing too hard. In one study, patients noticed that their symptoms laughing too hard(chest pain and coughing) worsened due to excessive laughing. However, it was observed that laughter-induced asthma wasn’t a case of medical emergency.
  • Also, the patients reported that when they can manage their asthma well, symptoms do not flare up when laughing for a longer duration. This means that exacerbation of symptoms due to laughter indicates that asthma is not being managed properly. Nevertheless, intense laughter may trigger asthma attacks. Hence, patients ought to take a cautionary approach when it comes to laughing loudly.
  • Laughing too hard also puts excessive strain on the chest muscles. Hence, people affected with respiratory conditions such as collapsed lung are often advised to avoid laughing loudly.

Laughter-induced Syncope

  • It is observed that intense laughter increases the breathing rate and when this continues for a longer duration, say for 10 to 15 minutes, it can be risky even to healthy individuals.
  • People have experienced shortness of breath during fits of laughter. There also have been reports of people losing their consciousness temporarily (for around 3 to 5 minutes); some have blacked out for a few seconds due to unrestrained laughter. Experts warn that excessive laughter tends to cause hyperventilation, which carries health risk but is unlikely to result in death.

A fit of hysterical laughter can also cause hernia to bulge out. Jaw trauma such as a dislocated jaw can also be one of the side effects of laughing too much. Excessive laughter is also responsible for triggering cataplexy, a condition that is marked by sudden temporary loss of muscle function.
Dr. Martin Samuels, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical, opines that extreme strong feelings related to sorrow or happiness stimulate an area of the brain corresponding to fight or flight response. During a fight or flight response, chemicals like adrenaline are released into the body. Too much of adrenaline can be detrimental to health, particularly the heart. So handling emotions (good or bad) in a better way is necessary to manage overall health.

Death from Laughter

  • There also have been confirmed reports of people laughing their way to death. In one instance, in 1989, Ole Bentzen, a Danish audiologist while watching a heist-comedy film A Fish Called Wanda went into uncontrollable fits of laughter. He began laughing so intensely that his heart started beating very fast and the heart rate was found to be fluctuating between 250 to 500 heartbeats per minute. This eventually caused cardiac arrest.
  • In another instance, in 1975, Alex Mitchell from England had uncontrollable fits of laughter while watching a television episode of Goodies, a popular British comedy series telecasted during the 1970s. He laughed hard non-stop for 25 minutes, which left him breathless due to severe heart failure. Later, it was found that Alex was a patient of long QT syndrome, a rare congenital heart disorder. This heart ailment may also have contributed to his death.

On the whole, experts say that contributory factors such as an underlying medical condition are likely to have played a role in causing deaths due to laughter. However, the fact remains that laughing too hard for long, although not fatal, can cause breathlessness.

Keep in mind that continuous fits of laughter can be risky but that doesn’t mean you should avoid laughing altogether. A good hearty laugh on a daily basis is in fact considered an elixir of life but make sure that the laughter-inducing moments do not leave you out of breath.

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