Can You Die From Laughing Too Hard?

A deep-belly laugh can feel downright contagious. You feel it radiating from the depths of your gut as it spreads slowly throughout the rest of your body like melted butter. Before you know it, everyone around you seems to join in. While laughing can be one of life's greatest joys, is it possible that too much of a good thing could pose a risk to your health or even your life?

While uncommon, a hearty laugh may be enough to bring us to our knees — literally. Otherwise known as laugh-induced syncope, some research has shown that intense laughter can cause a person to faint, even in those with no pre-existing medical conditions. When laughing, the body experiences a boost in intrathoracic pressure, which slows the speed of blood flow returning to the heart. This can trigger a series of reactions resulting in reduced cerebral blood flow and can prompt a person to pass out. If a person were to experience head trauma due to a sudden collapse, the injury could potentially be fatal.

However, there are a number of other ways a person could become at risk of laughter-related death that have nothing to do with a physical accident.

A hernia or ruptured aneurysm from laughing too hard could be fatal

An individual could also potentially die from laughing too hard if an existing aneurysm were to rupture due to the boost of intracranial pressure that occurs when we're in the throes of vigorous laughter, reports Vulture. However, there may also be an opposite relationship between an aneurysm rupture and bouts of laughter. In a 2014 case report published in Neurologia Medico-Chirurgica, a woman in her late 70s was found to have experienced uncontrollable laughter six months following treatment for bleeding surrounding the brain that had been prompted by a ruptured aneurysm. While incredibly rare, the researchers attributed the woman's involuntary laughter to reduced blood flow to certain brain regions and the connective nerves.

In addition to increased intracranial pressure, we also experience heightened pressure in our abdomen during a fit of giggles. For some people, this can cause the development of a potentially serious hernia, in which small portions of the bowel protrude through weakened tissue in the abdominal wall. The smaller the hole, the higher the risk that blood flow to the bowel may become choked off. Without urgent treatment, a strangulated hernia can be life-threatening.

Laughing too hard may be life-threatening for those with certain health conditions

People with heart issues may also be more susceptible to laughing-related death, such as those with coronary artery disease (via Vulture). Our heart rate accelerates when laughing, which could potentially lead to a heart attack for some individuals. An increased heart rate from laughing could also cause a person to experience an irregular heart rhythm, such as in cases of atrial fibrillation. While not always fatal, those who experience atrial fibrillation may be more prone to sudden cardiac death (SCD), per 2020 research published in Circulation Research.

Laughter that impacts your ability to breathe can also increase one's risk of death, particularly for people with respiratory issues like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the risk also extends to those without respiratory issues. According to Healthline, overdoses on laughing gas can lead to asphyxiation if the person loses consciousness. Asphyxiation can also occur in relation to tickling (via The Swaddle). Despite a person's roaring laughter, tickling can be dangerous. "At that point, the laughter is no longer the usual social laughter that accompanies play, but just a spasmodic reflex that the body uses to release tension," Dr. Alan Fridlund of the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The New York Times. If a person is unable to get enough oxygen while being tickled for a long period of time, they may be at risk of death.