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Sharp Health News

Can you be scared to death?

Oct. 26, 2015

Can you be scared to death?

It’s the spookiest time of the year. Haunted houses feature a fright around every corner and the scariest movies are shown on TV. So it seems appropriate to ask, can you be scared to death?

According to Dr. Lynn Welling, chief medical officer and emergency medicine doctor at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, you can — in fact — be scared to death, though it is rare.

“Fright stimulates our natural ‘fight or flight’ response,” he says. “When scared, our body increases its ability to react — pupils dilate to enhance our ability to see, our heart rate and respiratory rate increase to be able to support muscle activity and our ability to think quickly and decisively. If you are healthy, you become superhuman for a few seconds.”

While becoming superhuman sounds like a fun costume choice, if you’re not healthy, you could be a superhuman who meets their kryptonite.

“Particularly with known heart disease, the increased demand by the muscles for blood from the heart can take a toll on the heart,” Dr. Welling says. “Increasing the workload on an already poorly functioning heart may be enough to push it over the edge, causing it to beat ineffectively or to even stop beating all together. Severe stress in a single episode or a lesser stress in multiple episodes can also lead to heart damage, both temporary and permanent.”

The moral of this story is that if you are healthy, dying of fright should not scare you.

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