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Does Your Heart Really Stop for an Instant When You Sneeze?

The idea that your heart stops when you sneeze is a common myth. In reality, sneezing can momentarily affect the rhythm of your heartbeat, but it doesn't halt it. This brief disruption is due to the intrathoracic pressure changes during a sneeze. Intrigued? Discover how your body's incredible reflexes protect you in unexpected ways.

We all get the urge to sneeze from time to time. When you stop to think about it, sneezing is quite a bizarre sensation that affects numerous parts of your body. While one of the most popular questions about sneezing is whether it's possible to sneeze with your eyes open (yes, it is, though you'll have to work hard to do it, and it's probably not a great idea), have you ever wondered about the effect a sneeze has on your heart?

It's been suggested that the human heart stops for an instant whenever we sneeze, but this is essentially a myth. What actually happens is that when you sneeze, your heart may change its regular rhythm to adjust to the pressure, but its electrical activity does not stop.

While the heart may change its regular rhythm to adjust to the pressure of a sneeze, its electrical activity does not stop.
While the heart may change its regular rhythm to adjust to the pressure of a sneeze, its electrical activity does not stop.

Before we sneeze, we take a deep breath, which reduces blood flow to the heart and increases our pulse. Pressure builds in the abdomen as the throat closes up, preparing for the sneeze. When the sneeze finally occurs, we release that built-up pressure. Blood flow to the heart increases along with blood pressure, and our heart rate decreases. It is this blood flow and pressure change that causes the brief change in our heart’s regular rhythm, but medical professionals say that, in the vast majority of cases, it’s nothing to worry about.

So what's with sneezing, anyway? Sneezing is the body’s natural way of getting rid of unwanted materials like pollen and dust from the respiratory tract. Of course, sneezing can sometimes be a symptom of various illnesses, as well. It often occurs when we are sick with the common cold, allergic rhinitis, or the flu. Medical attention may be required if you experience any uncommon symptoms after a sneeze, such as dizziness, nausea, or fainting.

Ah...ah...ah....choo!

  • An extremely rare condition known as sneeze syncope can cause a person to faint after sneezing. This condition causes an extreme decrease in blood pressure and heart rate following a sneeze.

  • Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire, England, holds the record for longest sneezing episode, sneezing once every minute for 978 days. She began sneezing in July 1981 and finally stopped in September 1983.

  • We don’t sneeze when we sleep because the nerves involved are also at rest.

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    • While the heart may change its regular rhythm to adjust to the pressure of a sneeze, its electrical activity does not stop.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      While the heart may change its regular rhythm to adjust to the pressure of a sneeze, its electrical activity does not stop.