Laughing into unconsciousness

I just found a curious article from the Journal of the American Medical Association about a case of ‘laugh syncope’ – a condition where the patient passes out when they crack up with laughter.

Syncope is the medical term for when someone feints and it is caused by a reduction of oxygen to the brain.

At 4 PM on a March day, a 32-year-old, previously healthy barber was standing and cutting a client‚Äôs hair. The client related a funny story, upon which the barber broke out into a very strong, sustained, loud, and unrestrained laughing fit during which, according to observers, he “blacked out” and fell to the floor. Although he sustained interscapular bruising and minor trauma to the right shoulder, he exhibited no seizure activity and no bladder or bowel incontinence.

He regained consciousness within a few seconds, was completely oriented, had no apparent neurological deficit, and immediately resumed his work. He had been working on his feet throughout the day, but this was customary for him and he had never had a syncopal or near-syncopal episode before. The temperature at the time had been mild. The timing of his most recent meal was not recorded. The patient did not reveal the content of the story.

I love that last sentence. It reminds me of an earlier medical warning about the dangers of powerful jokes.

I note there’s another case of ‘laugh syncope’ that was published last year.

Apparently these cases can be caused simply by problems with getting the blood to the brain (such as heart difficulties), problems with the brain itself (for example, difficulties with its own blood supply network or the occurrence of a seizure) or due to what is known as a vasovagal episode that can be due to psychological triggers or vagus nerve dysfunction.

Link to ‘Shear hilarity leading to laugh syncope in a healthy man’.

2 Comments

  1. Posted September 9, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    This sounds near Fortean and with just the right amount of blithesome overtones to establish it as such. So the article rules out all other medical causes and states the “episode most likely represents a Valsalva-type/vagally mediated syncopal attack caused by the sustained episode of laughing”. I guess immoderate laughing really is a religious experience.

  2. Edgar Pimentel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I am a disabled veteran from the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and have nerve damage to the C5/C6 region and I just recently had an episode of this where my wife was driving and she told a joke I laughed so hard that I loss consciousness for 3 to 5 minutes according to her. it freaked her out she thought I was dead. I wondering if this is laughing syncope and if it is related to the nerve damage???


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