Elvis croaked while camped out on the john. Some say he had a heart attack caused by his drug habit, while others speculate it was his weight that did him in.
But his personal physician introduced a different—and controversial—theory in his 2010 book The King and Dr. Nick: He claimed the musician kicked it by straining too hard on his porcelain throne.
Strange as it may sound, there’s a pretty well established link between dropping a deuce and dropping dead. In fact, a Norwegian scientist published the first case report on the relationship back in 1968.
How Pooping Can Kill You
Blame a rare condition called defecation syncope, a fancy term for the loss of consciousness, or fainting, that can occur while pooping.
When we get ready to drop one, we instinctively employ a breathing technique known as the Valsalva maneuver, explains Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Digestive Health Center at Augusta University.
You essentially bear down to poop. You take in a deep breath and hold it, before trying to exhale against your closed-off airway.
This expands your lungs and pushes down your diaphragm. Your diaphragm, in turn, pushes down on your abdominal organs, which puts pressure on your pelvis.
As a result, the muscles in your anus gently open up, allowing the stool to come out.
But when you hold your breath in this manner, several important changes are occurring elsewhere in your body, too, says Dr. Rao.
Since you’re holding air in your lung cavity, you end up compromising your blood flow. As a result, less blood travels to your heart and to your brain, leading to a drop in blood pressure.
This can cause you to become dizzy and to actually faint.
And if blood flow to the heart is compromised—especially in someone who already has some artery blockages—that can be enough to trigger a heart attack, too, says Dr. Rao.
Death By Pooping: Who Is At Risk?
In healthy guys, this physiological response isn’t a problem, says Dr. Rao. They’re able to regulate the drop in blood pressure pretty quickly before feeling any symptoms.
But people with heart disease or blood pressure disorders, or who take meds for hypertension, are more at risk.
That’s because the special receptors in their bodies that regulate BP are already functioning less than optimally, making them less likely to be able to maintain proper blood flow.
Bottom line: Healthy guys don’t have to worry about passing out while pooping.
But men with heart disease or blood pressure problems may want to avoid excessive straining on the bowl. This intensifies your body’s response to the Valsalva maneuver.
A smart way to do it? Reduce your risk of constipation, so stool comes out more smoothly with little straining.
You can do that by upping your fiber in your diet: A 2013 meta-analysis from China concluded people who increased their fiber were 19 percent more likely to pass more frequent stools.
Shoot for 38 grams, the amount recommended by the Institute of Medicine, but don’t fixate on hitting a certain number, says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, M.S.
Instead, focus on getting your fix from a variety of whole and minimally-refined sources, like fibrous vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains like oats and quinoa.