June 17, 2021/Heart Health

Does Your Heart Stop When You Sneeze?

Fact or fiction?

A person using a tissue to blow their nose

The idea that your heart stops when you sneeze sounds more than a little hard to believe — but then again, the human body does some weird (and wonderful) things.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

So what’s the truth about sneezes? We talked to cardiologist Kenneth Mayuga, MD, to get the scoop on what happens to your heart when you say achoo. (Gesundheit.)

Does your heart skip a beat when you sneeze?

The first thing to know is that there’s an important difference between your heart stopping and your heart pausing.

“The heart doesn’t beat at a fixed rate. It speeds up and slows down all the time, depending on many factors,” points out Dr. Mayuga. For example, it ramps up when you’re running and slows when you’re sleeping.

“When we talk about the ‘heart stopping’ in medical terms, we generally mean a pause that lasts at least 3 seconds,” he says.

Such a long pause can be a sign of a heart rhythm problem. But the good news: “Sneezing, as a normal body function, does not generally cause those long pauses.”


What happens to your heart when you sneeze?

Now that we’ve established sneezes don’t cause your heart to stop, what is it that actually happens? While they usually aren’t anything to worry about, sneezes do have the power to slow down your heart rate, at least for a short time.

Dr. Mayuga says, “While sneezing may have the potential to slow the heartbeat for a very short amount of time — for example, from an increase in what’s called the vagal tone — overall we do not see it causing clinically meaningful pauses.”

“We know this because we have heart monitors that can record your heart rate and rhythm for up to four years,” he continues. “These monitors are designed to detect clinically meaningful heart pauses, which is something we generally don’t see with sneezing.”

The result: The heart’s rhythm is momentarily thrown off-kilter. But your heart doesn’t really stop.

Sneeze syncope

There is a caveat, though. Some people experience a phenomenon called “sneeze syncope.” Syncope (pronounced SIN-ko-pea) means fainting or passing out. When this occurs, the sneezer’s heart rate and blood pressure drop so low that they can feel dizzy or even pass out.

But, Dr. Mayuga assures, “Such a phenomenon is very, very rare even among people who have syncope in general.”.”


One study described an older woman who fainted when she sneezed. It turned out she was using beta-blocker eye drops for glaucoma ­— a medication that is also prescribed to lower heart rate. When she stopped the medication, her sneeze syncope disappeared.

The moral of the sneeze story? If you faint or feel dizzy when you sneeze, talk to your doctor. If you just sneeze a lot? You might want to talk to an allergist.

But don’t worry: Your heart can handle it.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

person sneezing while walking on sidewalk
July 9, 2023/Allergies
Why Do You Sneeze When You Look at the Sun?

ACHOO syndrome is your trigeminal nerve’s exaggerated response to bright light

A little girl coughing in to get elbow : Stock Photo Buy the print Comp Save to Board A little girl sneezing in to get elbow
April 15, 2021/Infectious Disease
Cough Etiquette: Why It’s So Important

The best way to prevent others from getting sick

Man sneezing into arm
April 12, 2020/Lung
Trying to Hold That Sneeze In? Better Not if You Know What’s Good for You

Let your body to do what it was meant to do

Toothbrushes in close proximity
April 6, 2020/Ear, Nose & Throat
Does Saliva Have Health Risks? 3 Ways Germs Can Spread

Find out which viruses and bacteria can become someone else's problem

Person reclining on couch wearing compression socks
April 3, 2024/Heart Health
How To Raise Your Blood Pressure Immediately at Home

First things first — slowly sit or lie down

Older couple talk while leisurely walk across a bridge
February 29, 2024/Heart Health
Can You Exercise After a Heart Attack?

Absolutely! In fact, in many ways, exercise is key to recovery

Person having a heart attack in background, close up of hand calling 911 on cell phone in foreground
February 28, 2024/Heart Health
Can You Stop a Heart Attack Once It Starts?

There’s no way to stop it once a heart attack is happening, but the most important thing you can do is to call for help

Person enjoying container of assorted fruit
February 28, 2024/Heart Health
How To Protect Your Heart When You Have Prediabetes

You can counter the risk of prediabetes-related heart attack or stroke by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as exercising regularly

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey