Fact Check

Did a Man Masturbate ‘So Hard’ That He Ruptured a Lung?

It was said the incident landed him in the intensive care unit.

Published Apr 20, 2022

Photo taken in Chandler, United States (Getty Images)
Photo taken in Chandler, United States (Image Via Getty Images)
Claim:
A 20-year-old man “masturbated so hard” that he ruptured a lung and required hospitalization in an intensive care unit.

Fact Check

A little self-care can go a long way — and for one man, some alone time turned into a prolonged and painful experience. The 20-year-old found himself in an emergency room with severe dyspnea, or shortness of breath, and chest pain that he experienced while lying in bed masturbating.

It sounds like the stuff of digital urban legends, but this really happened.

We were turned on to the claim when we came across an article published by the pop-science website IFLScience. And we found that the unfortunate episode was described in a case report, a scientific recounting of an event and not an evaluated study, and was published in the May 2022 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Radiology Case Reports.

“We present a case of a young man who was admitted to our emergency department with spontaneous pneumomediastinum (SPM) and profound subcutaneous emphysema (SCE) after an autoerotic experience,” wrote the treating physicians of Winterthur Hospital in Switzerland.

SPM is a rare condition that typically affects young men in their 20s and accounts for less than .0009% of emergency department admissions. It can be triggered by several physiological causes, including asthma exacerbation, strenuous exercise, excessive vomiting, or violent coughing.

High pulmonary pressure in the thoracic area leads to a rupture of the alveolar membrane, which includes the small air cells in the lungs. This rupture causes air to leak along pulmonary vessels and into surrounding tissue. Dubbed the “Macklin effect,” this pressure is eventually forced to leave the mediastinal cavity, an area that holds the heart and lungs, to travel along deep fascia tissuesin the cervical spine (neck area) and into the surrounding tissues, causing SCE. About 70% of all SPM cases will also have SCE.

Symptoms typically include chest pain, shortness of breath, neck pain, and a crackling sound made when breathing known as crepitations.

But this “unusual presentation” is the first known report to the authors. The patient had a history of mild asthma and ADHD but did not otherwise have noticeable health concerns that may have heightened his risk for SPM.

When he arrived at the hospital, the man had a swollen face and crackling crepitations. Computed tomographic (CT) scans of the chest and neck showed “profound” SPM and subcutaneous emphysema, which is when air becomes trapped in the tissues beneath the skin that reach up from the base of the skull.

X-Ray, Medical Imaging X-Ray Film, Ct Scan
CT scan of the frontal chest cavity. Radiology Case Reports

Over three days, the man was treated for chest pain and given antibiotics before ultimately being dismissed.

“There are only a few reports of SPM related to sexual activity and we could not find any cases associated with autoeroticism, which makes our case unusual,” wrote the treating doctors.

Those few reports included the case report of a “cannabis smoker” who engaged in “vigorous sexual intercourse,” a 21-year-old Illinois man who ingested ecstasy before having sex, and another 21-year-old male who “became gradually breathless” during sexual intercourse.


Sources

Iqbal, Mubashar, et al. “Pneumomediastinum in a Cannabis Smoker Precipitated by Vigorous Sexual Intercourse.” BMJ Case Reports CP, vol. 14, no. 9, Sept. 2021, p. e244804. casereports.bmj.com, https://doi.org/10.1136/bcr-2021-244804.

“Man Masturbated So Hard He Tore A Lung And Required Intensive Hospital Care.” IFLScience, https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/man-masturbated-so-hard-he-tore-a-lung-and-required-intensive-hospital-care/. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022.

Packham, C. J., et al. “Pneumomediastinum during Sexual Intercourse.” British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Ed.), vol. 288, no. 6425, Apr. 1984, pp. 1196–97. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.288.6425.1196.

Rajic, Nikola, and Christian Schandl. “Spontaneous Pneumomediastinum and Subcutaneous Emphysema after Masturbation.” Radiology Case Reports, vol. 17, no. 5, May 2022, pp. 1722–26. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.radcr.2022.02.080.

“Snopes Tips: Why Care If Research Is ‘Peer-Reviewed’?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/03/30/snopes-tips-why-care-if-research-is-peer-reviewed/. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022.

Stull, B. W. “Spontaneous Pneumomediastinum Following Ecstasy Ingestion and Sexual Intercourse.” Emergency Medicine Journal, vol. 25, no. 2, Feb. 2008, pp. 113–14. emj.bmj.com, https://doi.org/10.1136/emj.2006.041558.

Madison Dapcevich is a former writer for Snopes.

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