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Can You Be "Scared" to Death?

Many people say they've nearly been 'scared' to death, but can being frightened have any real impact on our health?

Posted: Nov. 8, 2017 1:41 PM

CLEVELAND CLINIC-- Many people say they've nearly been 'scared' to death, but can being frightened have any real impact on our health?

According to Marc Gillinov, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, research shows that strong emotions either brought on by fright or grief can trigger our body's fight-or-flight response, which for some, can cause an unhealthy surge of adrenaline.

"If a person is at risk for a heart attack or stroke, some sort of stimulus that's truly frightening could actually trigger such an event," said Dr. Gillinov.

Dr. Gillinov said there is a condition that can occur, called stress cardiomyopathy, in which people are practically scared to death.

He says this can occur in otherwise healthy people who don't have heart problems or a history of stroke. When they have a sudden emotional response like fright, they can become very sick.

Fortunately, Dr. Gillinov said that most of these people make a full recovery with no lasting effects.

He also added that stress cardiomyopathy is very rare, and that most people can be frightened or surprised with no issues at all.

"The average person need not be scared of being frightened to death; that's really uncommon," said Dr. Gillinov. "However, the person who has heart failure, serious heart disease, has had heart attacks and strokes, should try to avoid these sorts of situations; maybe don't go to a haunted house on Halloween."

Dr. Gillinov also pointed out that stress cardiomyopathy is not the same as sudden cardiac arrest. He said sudden cardiac arrest typically results from an abnormal heart rhythm, not from being frightened.

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