MD REVIEW

Dying of Laughter

Have you ever thought you were going to die laughing?

Is Laughing Too Hard Dangerous?

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Many consider laughing to be therapeutic. Research suggests that laughter may attenuate everything from allergies and dermatitis to back pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Imagine laughing off your dandruff or giggling away stiff joints.

Even if this appears a bit extreme, a study finds that laughing releases positive endorphins—a group of hormones that makes you feel warm and tingly inside. But is there a limit to this feel-good medicine? Is too much laughter harmful?

Some people have laughed so hard that they have become unconscious. According to Dr. Martin Samuels, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, blacking out while laughing may be related to over-breathing, and is probably not too dangerous.

Perils of Overexcitement

February is Heart Health month. Studies have linked the weeks following the Super Bowl to increased risk of heart attacks among sports fans—especially adulators of the losing team. Preexisting conditions may elevate the risk. Dr. Simon Rego, the head of the stress and anxiety center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, correlates a jump in heart rate and blood pressure, while munching on fried, greasy finger-foods. Aha! So after The Big Game, perhaps football fans should lay off the warm beer, nachos, leftover hot wings, and stale pretzels found between the seat cushions.

Studies link the weeks following the Super Bowl to increased risk of heart attacks.

People use the colloquialism, “I died laughing” rather liberally. Intense emotional states—whether positive or negative—can be harmful to the heart. Says Samuels, “Extreme excitement, whether that be sadness or happiness, activates the part of the brain that’s responsible for the flight-or-fight response to threats in the wild.” He says, “This releases a natural chemical—adrenaline—which in large animals can be toxic to various organs, in particular the heart.” On rare occasions it may cause an abnormal rhythm, which can be lethal.

Irreformable Humorists

Despite the stated dangers of humor, many incorrigible individuals tread into the dark and dank world of stand-up comedy; some write books about humor or try to be funny among friends—endangering loved ones. (Wagging head in disdain.) Are you a person that spreads perilous jocularity?

Perhaps you are a victim of comedy that has been known to burst into uncontrol­lable fits of laughter. Or maybe you routinely abstain from jovial outbursts. In either case, this is an intervention. Here’s your support group. Confess your humorous sins in the comment section below.

Say, ‘My name is ___ and it has been ___ days since I have had a laugh…’ Share the joke that last made you or someone else—not just smile—burst into laughter. Perhaps at the time, you thought it was the best joke ever. But you need to come clean.

This therapy could assuage your conscience, improve blood circulation, alleviate that lumbago, release endorphins, and make you feel A Bit More Healthy. Certainly, it will have better effects than gorging on stale pretzels and cold pizza during a football game.

To support the writing of useful articles about cardiology, ClinicalPosters sells human anatomy posters, scientific posters and other products online. You may sponsor specific articles, remit a small donation, or leave an encourag­ing comment to keep the work going. Stay safe and A Bit More Healthy.

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Kevin Williams is a health advocate, artist, pro­gram­mer, and writer of hundreds of articles for multiple web­sites. He has 17 years experi­ence as a Neutrogena Research and Scientific Affairs graphics con­sul­tant.

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