This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
I'm sure you guys have seen that story going around the web about a Mexican boy who died after his girlfriend gave him a hickey. In case you haven't, here's the Cliff's Note: reportedly, a 17 year old boy called Julio Macias Gonzalez was given a serious love bite by his girlfriend. It caused a blood clot in his neck, which in turn, led to a fatal stroke.
The story sounds crazy. It sounds impossible. I wondered if it was just an urban legend that was duping the internet en masse. When I brought it up with my co-workers, some of them had a vague recollection of a similar story a few years ago. So: was this an old wives' tale that had just resurfaced, or did the killer hickey really strike again? I was freaking out. I had to learn more.
I wrote a frantic email to the only doctor I know who'd be willing to take my fears seriously: Freddy Vista. He's our go-to Australian doctor with a fake name to distance his reputation from our dumb questions. Here's what he said.
VICE: Hey Freddy, is it really possible to die from a hickey? What's the science behind this?
Dr Freddy Vista: Yes, while extremely rare, there have been past reports of people suffering strokes after receiving hickeys—although I think this is the first documented fatality. Hickeys that have caused strokes have probably done so by applying pressure over one of the carotid arteries, which are the pair of blood vessels that run up either side of your neck and deliver blood to much of your brain. These arteries sit quite close to the surface in your neck, which is why you can feel or sometimes see a pulse there, making them vulnerable to trauma and injury.
So how hard would I have to suck somebody's neck to create an actual blood clot?
With hickeys, the lip pressure applied to this vulnerable area is probably the culprit rather than the suction per se. Rarely, such force over the carotids can result in rips in the artery walls (leading to dissections) or damage the walls in other ways, causing blood clots to form. Strokes can occur when these clots become large enough to block blood flow to the brain.
Are some people more predisposed to blood clots than others? Like, is there a disease or condition this boy could've had that would have made his blot clot more easily?
There are many medical conditions that can predispose people to blood clots or blood vessel damage. It isn't clear whether the Mexican kid had something like this, or just really bad luck. Oh god. Should we all stop giving hickeys? Are hickeys still safe? Should I just become celibate?
Again, it is extremely rare for a hickey to cause a stroke, and the risk of any single hickey proving life-threatening is very low. The decision of whether to continue giving or receiving hickeys is an individual one, and should take into account both the risks and benefits associated with sucking on necks. Okay, so if you can kill someone with a hickey could you then.. in theory… kill someone by sucking their dick too hard?
It is theoretically possible to cause a blood clot in any artery, again by applying pressure and damaging the vessel wall. As with the hickeys, placing pressure or force on arteries would probably be the issue rather than applying suction. A blood clot formed in a penile artery could potentially block blood flow to small areas of the penis, resulting in tissue death there, but would not have the potential to cause a stroke. That's a relief. Thanks Freddy! Follow Isabelle on Twitter.