Laughter-Induced Syncope (Fainting) Is Nothing to Laugh About
Fainting While Laughing Is Scary
On social media, people are always writing LOL ("laughing out loud"), or LMAO ("laughing my a** off). I can't relate to that since that body part was not involved when I fainted while laughing. However, the phrase "I laughed my head off," does ring true for me. We often hear people say, "I nearly died laughing." I don't know if anyone has ever actually died due to laughing, but it is possible to faint while in the throes of intense laughter. I have fainted three times while laughing, and the last time was the scariest.
The First Time
The first time I was working in a school kitchen preparing lunch. My co-worker and I did nothing but joke and laugh every day while working. (Not to worry. We did a good job for the students.) One day we were in rare form. I found something funny in what we were discussing and made a joke about it. Basically, I cracked myself up. I laughed and laughed and couldn't stop. It was so intense that at one point no sound came out. Things grew dark, and my body started to slowly slide toward the ground. I did not hit the floor, but almost. It was a weird, slow-motion kind of thing. It only lasted maybe 10-15 seconds, possibly less. I came out of it slowly. It was the weirdest thing. It was while slowly coming to that I recognized I had passed out. My co-worker didn't see it as she had her back to me the whole time.
The Second Time
The second time I was lying on the couch reading a very funny book. I howled with laughter and again blacked out. I was fortunate to have been lying on the couch so I was safe from falling.
The Third Time
The last time was about a year ago. I was on YouTube watching a comedy routine with Ellen DeGeneres (she is so funny!). I was sitting at my desk in my office and laughed so intensely I passed out completely, slumping over with my forehead on my computer keyboard. The return to consciousness was slow and gradual. At one point I was aware that something was happening and I was struggling to come fully awake, but everything was still black. Then I felt my arms flailing around. I don't mind telling you it scared the heck out of me.
The two most frightening moments when this happened was when I realized that my laughter was way too intense (physically uncomfortable), and I had no control of myself. I couldn't get a breath, and the pressure in my head and face was horribly forceful. It felt like I seized up (not like having a seizure), got stuck in mid-laugh, and I was helpless to get out of it. The blackout is slower than other kinds of fainting. I could feel myself sinking for a second or two, then nothing.
The coming to was the worst part. The sensation is very difficult to describe. It was like when you are dreaming that you're running and you can only go in the slowest of slow motion. It was like coming to the surface of consciousness through a thick vat of mud. Before I was fully conscious, there was a point where my reasoning flickered and I knew I had passed out and was struggling to consciousness. But it was only a flicker, and that split second was frightening. The physical sensation of coming to I cannot describe adequately, so I won't even try, but it's the most horrible part.
What Happens During Laughter-Induced Syncope?
Laughter-induced syncope, also known as gelastic (pronounced ja-lastic) syncope, is what I just described. (It's not to be confused with gelastic seizures, which is a completely different type of disorder and far more serious.) Syncope simply means fainting. Biomed Central published a Journal of Medicine case report which described it this way: "Intense laughter causes repetitive forced expirations in a staccato pattern with a Valsalva-type effect." 1
I talked to my friend MaryAnn King, who is a registered nurse (RN), who took the time to research it and explain it to me in easier terms. As she explained it:
"They think that the intense laughter might stimulate the vagus nerve. When this nerve is stimulated it causes a sudden drop in the heart rate and blood pressure, and it's more than the brain can handle so it shuts down and you pass out. It's called a vagal response. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the anus, so they think the build up of pressure in the chest while laughing stimulates the nerve. A vagal response is common, but laughing syncope and gelsastic are pretty uncommon."
Have you ever passed out while laughing, or for some other reason?
This Is What Happened to Me (Forgive the Expletives)
Since my last episode I have taken care in what I watch on YouTube, what I read, and how far I take joking, so my life is rather dull. Kidding, of course. I may have to write Ellen DeGeneres a letter to let her know how hard she made me laugh. I forgive her, though. It's a credit to her skill as a comedian. And who knows, she may bring me on her show and give me a year's supply of smelling salts.
I am getting ready to take a 12-week stand-up comedy class (just for fun) with a performance at the end. (I have an article in the works about it.) I hope I'm not so funny that I make someone pass out. Probably not.
I have added this section due to the overwhelming response of people who have experienced laughter-induced (gelastic) syncope—and the alarm, fear, and concern it has caused.
Please see your physician if it really worries you! Your doctor will be able to explain what is happening during the episode better than I have, and you can ask questions. He or she may even be able to advise on how to prevent an episode. We can't walk around being afraid to laugh.
You take care!!!
Thanks to MaryAnn King, R.N., for her research and assistance for this article.
Source From Biomed Central
1 Katsufumi Nishida, Sean K Hirota, and Jinichi Tokeshi (2008, July 7). "Laugh syncope as a rare sub-type of the situational sycopes: a case report." Journal of Medical Case Reports. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Lori Colbo