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Laughing Induced Syncope (Fainting) Is Nothing to Laugh About

Updated on August 20, 2016

Joined: 6 years agoFollowers: 430Articles: 185

Fainting While Laughing Is Scary

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 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 to 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.

On social media people are always writing "LMAO" which translates to "Laughing my #ss off." (Forgive me, but that's what it means.) I can't relate to that since that body part was not involved. However, "I laughed my head off," rings true.

The vagus nerve is highlighted in yellow.
The vagus nerve is highlighted in yellow. | Source

What Happens During Laughing Syncope?

Laughing 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 R.N. 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?

See results

This Is What Happened to Me (Forgive the Expletives)

My Remedy

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.

Afterword

I have added this section due to the overwhelming response of people who have experienced Laughing (Gelastic) Syncope and the alarm, fear, and concern it has caused.

PLEASE SEE YOUR PHYSICIAN if it really worries you. He may be able to explain what is happening during the episode better than I have, and you can ask questions. He may even be able to advise 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). Laughing syncope as a rare sub-type of the situational sycopes: a case report. Retrieved May 20, 2016 from http://jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-1947-2-197

© 2013 Lori Colbo

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    • Bishop55 profile image

      Rebecca 3 years ago from USA

      This is a very good hub. Have you ever seen the show 1000 ways to die? It's on Netflix. Someone has actually died of laughing.

      I kinda wish I'd faint from laughing, only because my demeanor seems to be on the serious side and I know laughter is excellent medicine, obviously in moderate doses though! As your hub has clearly described!

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Happy New Year Bishop. We need a few more serious people around here. Laughter is good medicine but as seen here in moderation. Thanks for stopping y.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Lambservant, thank you for explaining Laughing Syncope. It's a new term for me, and a new awareness of "nearly died laughing." Please be careful! Voted up.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      thanks Ms Dora, I will.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Never heard of it. But I'll be watching for it. Are you going to post your comedy routine? Hope so! I'm sure it will be terrific.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      It won't be until the end of March, Bill. In a class now.

    • jesusmyjoy profile image

      Betty Bolden 2 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

      wow wow

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Jesusmyjoy, thanks for stopping by. Wow is right.

    • Tony 23 months ago

      This happened to me last night while listening to a radio comedy show. I was driving at about 70mph and laughing when suddenly it felt like a bomb had gone off near me... Very similar to the feeling of being next to a 76mm gun during my navy days. Luckily I did not completely blackout, but I felt almost unable to move and had to fight to stay in control. The episode probably lasted only 5 seconds but to me it felt like hours.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 23 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      tony, that's awful - and very scary. Mine is not like a bomb, but a kind of slow dimming and then I am out. You are lucky to be alive. Even in five seconds you could have crashed. glad you are okay.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 22 months ago from California

      I have never heard of this--but it must be scary! Comedy routine--did someone say comedy routine above?? That should be fabulous!

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 22 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Audrey, it was scary! I was watching Ellen the last time it happened! I also do stand up comedy, but never fainted, ill!

    • kesha 18 months ago

      Yes that happen to me and it was very scary wokeing up with my baby standing over me crying and I was just standing up laughing it happen 2 times so I have the same remedy

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 18 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Esha, thanks for stopping by! It is very frightening indeed!

    • Jim 18 months ago

      I have passed out at least 5 times from laughing. Once while driving with my family in the car. I was aware that I was driving but lost ability to see. I couldn't do anything but sit. Another time was sitting at the dinner table after the loss of my father in law. The family was at the table I laughed raised my head back and went out. I came to slowly and as the slowmo vision caught up with me, my kid and wife, mouths open, stares at me. Soon I came back to my self but I was sweaty. I always felt alone, its nice and sad to know others have this too. Can it be fatal?

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 18 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Jim, research says it is not fatal. It's fainting, that's all. Can't imagine why you'd laugh so hard at the passing of your father-in-law, that's creepy - no offense.

    • Punkin 16 months ago

      I was watching a movie The Great Outdoors with John Candy, the funniest part of that movie is the encounter the family has with the bear. I was laughing and the next thing I know my husband and son were picking me up from the floor. I asked my cardiologist about it and she told me what this was, all I could say was wow!!

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 16 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh punkin, thank you for sharing. At we've done this for a good cause - laughter! Happy giggles my friend.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 15 months ago from Jamaica

      It's been happening to me gradually. The last time was a few days ago. I could feel myself starting to sink into an abyss and every thing slows down. I had to fight to stay conscious and wait until I was fully back to normal. I am so scared to laugh now, I try to keep myself from totally giving in to complete laughter.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 15 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Cardisa, you just described how I felt for a long time. Even today I try to avoid intense laughter - thus I don't watch Ellen too often. Your description of graduallity and things slowing down are scary. It's just as equally a slow gradual coming to. Slogging through mental mud I call it. Bless you Cardisa. I hope one day we can both laugh are batooties off with no fear. Thanks for sharing.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 15 months ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Lambservant. It's scary. I was thinking that something was wrong with me or that I wasn't getting enough oxygen when I laughed. I was planning on seeing my doctor about it because I am so scared.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 15 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Cardisa, it wouldn't hurt to check in with your doctor, but my research shows thus far, that it isn't a fatal occurrence. It can also happen by coughing and crying hard. But I am not a medical professional and it would be a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure nothing else is going on and that he can reassure you if it's nothing else serious.

    • Jennifer 13 months ago

      This just happen to me from watching an Ellen clip also. I got very scared my left eye went all black and it took a minute or so to come back to normal. I still feel a little funny and have a bit of a headache also. It happened once before a couple weeks ago. Very scary to me :(

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 13 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh Jennifer, that sounds really scary. Losing vision in one eye and a headache could be a sign of something worse. Please get medical attention if you get worse or have persistent symptoms.

      Darn that ol' Ellen anyway. .)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 12 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I have never passed out from laughing but I use to laugh so much and so hard I would get horrible hiccups. The sounded disgusting and made laugh even more.

      You know the lesson here may be "all things in moderation" do you think? Although I sure would like to be that happy again. lol

    • Frank McDonald 11 months ago

      Hi, So I recently had an episode where I started laughing, and literally right at the start of my laughter I felt like things were going black and than I was completely out. This episode felt like it lasted for 2-3 hours where witnesses told me it only lasted 30 seconds. I also had a very vivid, happy-like dream where I was concious of what I was doing in my dream. Maybe a start like of astral projection? Anywhoo, I was wondering if you have very vivid dreams that seem to last hours on end, where the actual fainting episode only lasts 30 seconds or so? Thank you for your time!!!

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 11 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Frank, I never dreamed when I was out by laughing, but I do have a very vivid dream life, and yes, dreams that seem to last for hours. Weirder, I will have a very long dream, wake up for awhile, return to sleep where the dream picks up where it left off. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Unconscious Joker 10 months ago

      I have now blacked out whilst laughing 3 times each with increasingly alarming affects.

      The last time was whilst driving and I ended up rear ending a Van.

      I am very concerned

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 9 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Joker, see your physician.

    • Kraig 8 months ago

      Your article is spot on and describes what happens to me. I also have this and it has been building up each time. It has happened 4 times now. The most recent was while watching a video (not Ellen) and I laughed so hard that I actually passed out cold on the kitchen floor. My daughter said I was twitching and she helped me gradually "wake up".

      While out it was pitch black, and I heard nothing. Just a peaceful dream-like state. I remember it felt extremely relaxing, but when I did come out of it I had a major headache.

      Before that episode I would always feel it coming on and would gradually go down to my knees while the "curtain" was coming down. My arms go numb and it's like someone is turning out the lights, but I would still hear everything going on. And I would usually can come out of it before I truly blacked out. It is very concerning. Good to know I am not alone in this. My main concern is that it will happen while driving or swimming.

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 8 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Craig, your description was very well stated. The curtain - yes that's what it's like. I hope you will overcome it. Don't listen to funny things while driving. If it happens for no reason (not laughing or coughing etc) then please go see a Dr. In fact ask him about it regardless just to make sure nothing else is going on. I'm very careful about not listening funny stuff when in a vulnerable situation. But recently I went to rehearsal for a local comedy play and laughed so hard I felt it coming on. I took rapid deep breaths. Almost had to leave. Take care.

    • MPS Raghav 8 months ago

      Today it happened with me, I fainted got into senses when he touched. I found myself on floor. Do I need to consult Dr or go for Ecg etc

    • MPS Raghav 8 months ago

      Total blackout I didn't remember how I was down rather than just few seconds prior I was laughing (uncontrollable)

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 8 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I'm not a Dr so I would say definitely go see a Dr.

    • Gani 7 months ago

      It happened to me last night wherein due to uncontrollable laugh, hit the tv slightly and fallen down. I was not feeling where it's hit and simply blackout until a strong sound came in 2 secs.

    • kabrajohn 6 months ago

      This happened to me yesterday. In the past, I have felt myself almost lose consciousness multiple times while laughing. Lights popping, things going dark, but I've always been able to regain control. Yesterday I was not able to regain control. I was sitting in my office, watching a clip on the internet, and unexpectedly had a fit of silent laughter. The next thing I knew I was waking up on the ground, in a reverse of how I got there... What I mean by that is that the dark tunnel started to get brighter, and I began to realize that I was waking up, but shaking uncontrollably. As soon as I realized this, I stopped shaking and was able to sit back up into my chair (had fallen to the floor). It took me a minute to realize what had happened, but I felt that I immediately had capacity to think and react. I was scared and started looking up anything I could on this phenomenon, but really didn't know how to classify this. I've been looking up epilepsy and fainting for the past twenty-four hours. I'm SO glad to have found this post today. Makes a ton of sense! Thank you!

    • RasMarcus 5 months ago

      Just like me, lots of people are finding this post very helpful the day after their episode of Laughing Syncope... thanks for the posting!

      Exactly the same happened to me yesterday - for the first time in life. Just after exploding into laughter with a mouth full of water - and spraying my daughter with it - I attempted to take a breath, but 'came to' a second or two later when my head hit the floor with a cracking sound and I could feel my arms and legs 'twitching' or 'convulsing'.

      Our laughing immediately stopped and I was dazed and confused for the first couple of minutes. Although I was able to get up quickly (10-15 seconds), I could not immediately remember how I fell - or what I was doing before picking myself up off the ground.

      When I remembered that I was laughing and why. I started to laugh again but realized my laughter was actually the cause of the fainting spell - and I became worried... then, I ended up here reading, absorbing, and contributing to this post - like so many others did.

      Again, thank you... and may your laughter remain 'light-hearting' and continue to promote well-being and pain relief - as it should.

      ONE LOVE

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 5 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      RasMarcus, How awful. I've written many many articles on hubpages but strangely enough, this article has not only vastly exceeded all other in viewers, but also in comments. This is a scary thing, fainting while laughing. When I wrote this I thought it was rare, but it seems not. Take care of yourself and see your doctor if you are concerned.

    • Montressa 4 months ago

      My daughter would always joke about feeling like she was going to pass out while she was laughing..she never did...until yesterday. She was in walmart with her best friend and they were laughing about something -who knows- but she said it was an uncontrollable laughter then she remember her friend saying are you ok are you ok get up.... she didnt even know she had fallen. Shes ok now but a bit shaken up still. Makimg an appt. TODAY!!!!

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 4 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Montressa, that must have been very upsetting for your daughter and you. I hope the Dr gives her a clean bill of health.

    • Joe 4 months ago

      This is a serious condition and this is a lot of waffle without any suggestions. Can any one help?

    • lambservant profile image
      Author

      Lori Colbo 4 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Joe, I think only a doctor can help you. My research says it is not that serious, so I have not seen a doctor and it's so rare that it happens. In fact, it has not happened to me since I wrote this, although I've come close. A lot of the commenters have experienced this and I recommend to all of them that they seek a doctor visit.

      This article was just my attempt to bring awareness. I cannot and will not recommend any treatment as I don't have that training. A doctor is my recommendation. Good luck.

    • Robyn 4 months ago

      Happened to me the other day I was laughing really hard and all of a sudden everything went black felt like I was dreaming and I know I was sliding slowly came out of it and I didnt know where I was for a second my boyfriend saw what had happened

    • Yvette 3 months ago

      This happened to me a few months ago! I was eating with my daughter in a restaurant and took a sip of tea just as she said sonething funny. The last thing I remember is spraying the table with tea and trying to take a breath! Next thing I know my daughter is saying " Mom, are you ok?", and the sound of conversation in the restaurant. Like waking up in the morning. Anyway, now I worry about it happening while I'm driving or when I'm at work. My doctor said it was Vasovagal response, but ordered blood tests and an EKG just to be sure. EKG was normal but blood showed prediabetes.

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 3 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Yvette, good for you for going to the doctor. I'm glad the EKG was normal but sorry about the prediabetes. Gelastic syncope is frightening. Like you, I've worried about it happening while driving, or in public. In the car I no longer worry. I listen to uplifting music. I don't very often have passengers as cute and funny as your daughter so I'm pretty safe. Take care of yourself and thanks for writing and sharing your experience.

    • Eric 2 months ago

      Lambservant...do you still laugh that hard?..what is the latest and longest episode of laughter you have ever had?

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh boy, Eric, it's hard to say. I can say I have laughed in the past before my passing out days for a good ten minutes or more, with a few momentary pauses. As for now, I do laugh hard but when I feel the faint coming I start taking rapid deep breaths and find something to distract me. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jack 5 weeks ago

      This has happened to me four times now in this past year. Three times at work, not completely going out before falling to the ground. But the most serious moment happened to me was swimming in the lake with my children and friends. I got to reminiscing with a friend about something that happened in my life that was extremely funny. Basically your description of how You felt was similar to mine when I went out. I heard ringing, and my surroundings was closing in like I was looking out a small window. My friend was15 feet away and happen to be looking at me when I went under. " I'm lucky to be alive,"he pulled me up to shore. I swallowed a lot of water and was in shock.

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 5 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh my goodness Jack. Y ou are lucky to be Alive indeed. You take care of yourself. I have something I do to keep me from passing out. When my laughing is out of control and I feel its coming down I try to start gulping in bursts of breath. It works most of the time but I don't know if it would help everyone. Take care.

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 5 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh my goodness Jack. Y ou are lucky to be Alive indeed. You take care of yourself. I have something I do to keep me from passing out. When my laughing is out of control and I feel its coming down I try to start gulping in bursts of breath. It works most of the time but I don't know if it would help everyone. Take care.

    • Mike 3 weeks ago

      this occured to me twnety minutes ago for the first time. I had three beers and my wife and sones decided to go through the drive through. Our designated driver was cracking okes and my wife was incapable of ordering correctly from the back seat. We all laughed. the last thing I remember was my son cracking a joke and I started laughing. I woke up about 10 seconds later in a panic telling myself there was something wrong with me. I awoke no-one the wiser and having regurgitated some beer foam onto my chest and lap. This scared me. I think I would attribute this to my recent weight gain but not sure.....

    • Dave 3 weeks ago

      Thanks for your post. After several -- close calls -- I passed out the other day. Jimmy Fallon set me off this time. I use to listen to comedy while driving -- no more!! One of my favorite things it to attend standup shows -- I guess that will be something to watch for.

      After on Dr visit and a normal EKG - I have a cardio and neurologist appointments -- while I'm still going to them -- I'll ask about Gelastic.Syndrome.

      Thank you!!!!

    • Erik 35 hours ago

      Happened to me in my kitchen .I fell into the stove and my wife was looking at me in shock. I played it off and said I slipped. I was hoping in these comments someone would say what there Dr.said to them.

    • lambservant profile image
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      Lori Colbo 12 hours ago from Pacific Northwest

      Oh Erik, my goodness. I hope the stove wasn't on. Glad you're safe.

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