Can you be scared to death?

A frightening reality is that yes, you can

Haunted houses, spooky spirits and frightful festivities are all part of Halloween fun. If you are thrilled by the adrenaline rush that comes with being scared, you may want to reconsider.

“Dying after being scared is a rare phenomenon, but it can occur,” said Tara Mudd, APRN, nurse practitioner with Norton Heart Specialists – Heart Rhythm Center. “Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is known as a fear-related heart problem that affects healthy people. This is similar to situations where an otherwise healthy person suffers a heart attack after a traumatic experience or the loss of a loved one.”

The science behind being scared to death is related to the body’s fight or flight system. When the brain perceives a threat, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, which sends adrenaline and other chemicals called catecholamines through the body to raise heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles and constrict blood vessels — all to prepare the body to either fight or run from danger.

“In most people the rush of adrenaline is fine. A person may describe being ‘amped up’ or excited for a few minutes and then calm back down,” Mudd said. “For a rare few, the exaggerated stress response can damage the heart’s pumping system.”

This can lead to symptoms of sudden increased shortness of breath, chest pain and abnormal heart rhythms, which potentially can be life-threatening.

The good news is that cardiomyopathy is treatable and most people recover within weeks. Very rarely is it fatal.

“The best advice is to strive for a healthy heart year-round,” Mudd said. “See your doctor regularly; know your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers; and if you are a smoker, quit.”

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