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No Joke: Study Shows Laughing Might Actually Be Bad For You

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Marisa Kabas

By Marisa Kabas on December 20, 2013

Girls have always been warned about the dangers of laughing. “If you keep laughing like that you’ll get lines around your eyes!” Thanks grandma, I’m 7.

But now it turns out that old bat might’ve been right about laughing having ill-effects. A new scholarly review from British medical journal BMJ reveals that whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” is a bit of a liar and, as it turns out, laughter might actually be bad for you.

This is the journal’s first look into the effects of laughter in more than 100 years. The New York Times tells us the roots of this germaneness:

The question was timely, they argue, because BMJ had not addressed laughter in a serious fashion in over a century. In 1898, it had published a case study of heart failure in a 13-year-old girl following prolonged laughter. The next year, the laughter problem was raised again, when an editorial writer, in response to an Italian doctor’s suggestion that telling jokes could treat bronchitis, dismissively proposed the term “gelototherapy” (Gelos was the Greek god of laughter; in Italian, gelato is ice cream.).

Now they’re back on the laughter beat, and the results are somewhat troubling. They say that the force of laughing can dislocate jaws, prompt asthma attacks, cause headaches, make hernias protrude, provoke cardiac arrhythmiam, and make you pee your pants (we’ve all been there.) But among the most jarring is the possibility of some hard to pronounce syndromes.

A 1997 discussion of Boerhaave’s syndrome, a spontaneous perforation of the esophagus, a rare though potentially lethal event, mentioned that one unusual precipitating cause is laughter.

Then there is the mysterious Pilgaard-Dahl syndrome, identified in a 2010 article as a pneumothorax in middle-aged male smokers induced by laughter. It takes its name from Ulf Pilgaard and Lisbet Dahl, the Danish revue performers.

Those Danes and their jokes.

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The study appeared in BMJ’s annual Christmas issue, which features “rigorously researched but lighthearted articles.” I don’t see anything lighthearted about a perforated esophagus, but that’s just me.

I guess the lesson here is that you should all stop reading my posts, because you could be in danger.

Banner photo via Wikimedia Commons

[via NYT]
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