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Can You Actually Be Scared … to Death?

Hagerstenguy, Flickr

The next time you think it would be funny to scare the living daylights out of someone, you might want to consider this: medical experts say that an intense fright can severely stun the heart, enough even to kill a perfectly healthy human being.

This phenomenon of dying from fright is commonly referred to as the “broken heart syndrome,” which quite literally causes the heart to stop moving after events like receiving terrible news … or a really good scare.

Experts say that these types of occurrences happen more in women than men, as “they account for about 90 percent of reported cases”, according to Dr. Martin Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Interestingly, this type of sudden-death occurrence is not as rare as you might think. Dr. Samuels says that at least one death per day in nearly every major city results from stress cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome). He also goes on to say that statistics show that those numbers slightly increase about a week after a tragic event like an earthquake or terrorist attack.

So, what exactly causes broken heart syndrome? According to Dr. Samuels, it is likely triggered by an uncontrolled activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” function. “Sympathetic storming, as it’s referred to, produces a rush of stress hormones.” said Samuels. “This can work to our benefit much of the time, but in the case of stress cardiomyopathy, the exaggerated response can damage the heart.”

Even really good news like a hole-in-one on the golf course or a not-guilty verdict in court can ignite an attack, according to Samuels: “Any highly emotional event whether positive or negative can set it off.”

The good news is it really takes an emotional whopper to bring on cardiomyopathy. So, don’t be too afraid to dish out your fair share of scares this Halloween.

[ABC News]

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