Who doesn’t enjoy a good chuckle? Laughing has been known to improve mood and attitude. Just hearing another person laugh might even make you feel better.
But sometimes, laughing too hard can be dangerous. Maybe you’ve heard about the Greek philosopher Chrysippus, who laughed at his own joke, only to die soon after.
Some believed he died from laughing too hard. Of course, there’s no way to know this for certain.
Death from laughter may seem like an old wives’ tale, yet evidence suggests that people can succumb to death by laughing too hard.
Laughing itself doesn’t kill, but a condition triggered by laughing might.
Laughing is one of the best medicines for a sour mood, but too much could cause one of the following life-threatening conditions:
Ruptured brain aneurysm
A brain aneurysm is a bulge that forms in a blood vessel (artery) in the brain. Some aneurysms go undiagnosed, yet a bulge can eventually rupture and cause bleeding in the brain.
A ruptured aneurysm can quickly lead to brain damage, as well as cause increased pressure in the skull cavity. This elevated pressure can interfere with the oxygen supply to the brain, sometimes resulting in coma or death.
Signs of a ruptured brain aneurysm include:
- severe, sudden headache
- double vision
- sensitivity to light
The exact cause of a brain aneurysm is unknown.
If you have an undiagnosed brain aneurysm, a hard laugh could potentially lead to rupture or leakage.
Different emotions can trigger asthma symptoms. These include crying, stress, excitement, and yes, even laughing.
Some people only experience mild asthma symptoms. In others, a hard laugh triggers a severe asthma attack, making it difficult to breathe.
Without prompt asthma treatment, a laughing-induced asthma attack can be life-threatening and cause respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.
Gelastic seizures commonly start in the hypothalamus. These seizures are unique because they’re often associated with uncontrollable laughing or giggling while awake or asleep.
The person having the seizure may appear to laugh, smile, or smirk. These emotional expressions are forced and uncontrollable. Gelastic seizures are sometimes caused by brain tumors in the hypothalamus.
Many of these tumors are benign, but a malignant tumor, although less common, is also possible. Successful removal may improve neurological symptoms and help to control one’s seizures.
Death from laughter can also occur if laughing too hard leads to asphyxiation or suffocation.
Laughing too hard may prevent adequate breathing or cause a person to stop breathing, depriving their body of oxygen. This type of death is likely with a nitrous oxide overdose.
Nitrous oxide is commonly known as laughing gas, an inhaled anesthetic used during some dental procedures.
Syncope is a usually temporary loss of consciousness or fainting due to insufficient blood flow to the brain. It’s caused by low blood pressure, a reduction in heart rate, dehydration, exhaustion, and heavy sweating.
Sometimes, syncope is situational and triggered by heavy coughing or laughing. If caused by a heart condition, a related episode of syncope can lead to sudden cardiac death.
Laughter-induced syncope may not cause cardiac arrest, but it can result in a life-threatening injury if you faint and hit your head.
While death from laughing is possible, it’s an unlikely possibility. Laughing remains a mostly good thing with several short-term and long-term health benefits.
Short-term benefits include decreasing your stress level. It can also stimulate circulation, easing tension and helping your muscles relax. Laughter can even boost your intake of oxygen-rich air. This is beneficial to your heart and lungs.
As far as long-term benefits, laughing may curb depression and anxiety, helping you feel better.
Dispelling negative thoughts and reducing stress can also strengthen your immunity and lessen the risk of illness. In addition, the more you laugh, the more endorphins your brain releases.
These are feel-good hormones that not only improve mood, but also relieve pain.
Because laughing too hard can cause problems in certain people, pay attention to your body and health. See a doctor if you develop any unusual symptoms before or after a laughing fit.
- severe headache
- mental confusion
- difficulty breathing
- temporary loss of consciousness
If you have asthma, talk to a doctor about the risk of a laughing-induced asthma attack. It might help to keep an inhaler with you at all times, especially if you’ve experienced wheezing or coughing after a good laugh.
If you develop severe symptoms after laughing too hard, go to the emergency room immediately or call 911.
Death from laughing doesn’t occur often, but it can happen in certain circumstances. Don’t ignore unusual symptoms that develop after laughing too hard. See a doctor, even for temporary symptoms, to avoid future complications.