Curious cases of people who have died laughing – can a giggle really be fatal?

It’s a strange way to go but there has been a number of times of history when a chuckle has become fatal

Can you laugh so much that you die? Here’s when and how it happens (stock image)

Although death from laughter is rare, the phenomenon has been record a number of times throughout history – in fact it dates back as far as Ancient Greece and is as recent as a few decades ago.

Although, it sounds like a bizarre, even fantastical way to snuff it, the death is usually a result of cardiac arrest or asphyxiation caused by the fits of laughter.

Picture the scene…you’re in Ancient Greece, 3rd Century BC, you’ve fed your donkey some wine and now it’s drunk and eating your figs, you burst out laughing until you die.

Sounds like quite the way to go, right? That’s what apparently happened to Greek philosopher Chrysippus.

Greek philosopher Chrysippus laughed at a donkey eating figs so much that he died

But to set the record straight, you don’t actually die from the laughing itself, the laughing can trigger another cause.

Causes of death from laughing include:
Asthma Attack

A variety of different emotions can trigger asthma attacks, and believe it or not, one of those is having a giggle. In some cases, someone can laugh so much that it triggers a severe asthma attack and they struggle to breathe. It can be seriously life threatening and cause respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.

A chuckle a day keeps the doctor away – or does it?

Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

Without too much gory detail, a ruptured brain aneurysm is a bulge that forms in a blood vessel in the brain. They can cause increased pressure in the skull cavity which can interfere with oxygen in the brain, resulting in a coma or death.


Ever laughed so much that you can’t breathe? Laughing too hard can sometimes lead to asphyxiation or suffocation. It can actually cause someone to stop breathing depriving their body of oxygen, who knew?

Gelastic Seizures

These nasty sounding things commonly start in the hypothalamus, they are pretty unique because of their link with uncontrollable laughing and giggling whilst asleep.

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Another case of death by laughter is Wesley Parsons, an Indiana Farmer in 1893 who was minding his own business having a laugh with his friends one day. He launched into a bout of uncontrollable laughter that lasted a whole hour which turned into hiccups. He died two hours later.

A little closer to home – and only a few decades ago – Alex Mitchell from Norfolk was watching an episode of The Goodies when he began laughing. This led to heart failure.

It’s certainly a morbid accolade for a comedian to have created something so funny that someone died laughing watching it, but the Goodies stars Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie received a letter from Mr Mitchell’s widow some time later thanking them for making his final 30 minutes so enjoyable.

It is now believed Mr Mitchell died of a pre-existing heart condition.

Dr. Kaushal, a General Practitioner at Priory Medical Centre in Liverpool said: “I’d say it’s highly unlikely that someone would actually die of laughter nowadays, it’s very rare. Unless they had food in their mouth at the time and choked on it!”

“It’s just not something you really come across as a medical professional, at least I haven’t anyway. Perhaps because it’s so rare, and we can quickly identify something like an asthma attack or a heart attack unlike back in the day in Ancient Greece.”

Maybe we don’t need to worry too much, then.

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