Can you really be scared to death?

November 8, 2010 By William Weir

We like a good fright, but can you actually be scared to death?

It turns out that, yes, a good-enough scare can be the cause your demise - but probably not if you're of normal health.

"If it were to happen it would be someone with a precondition, a weak heart or an aneurysm in the brain," says Brian J. Hurlbut, who teaches psychology at Southern Connecticut State University. "When you're scared, and scared badly, a part of the nervous system - the - prepares your body for violent activity..." It's what's commonly known as the fight-or-flight reflex.

There have been cases in which criminals have been charged with murder or manslaughter because their vicitims died from heart attacks. But certificates aren't likely to reflect that.

"I rather doubt that a physician would write out 'scared to death'," Hurlbut says.

When there's a sudden threat of danger, your system "dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream," so that it goes to your muscles. At the same time, blood vessels in the skin and constrict so that blood will also be directed to your muscles. That's partly why people lose their appetite when they're nervous or scared.

What happens in the body while watching a horror movie or finding your way through a haunted house is similar to what happens during - for instance, long-distance running. Once the threat has diminished, the part of our bodies known as the parasympathetic nervous system then brings everything back into order. But for those in weakened condition, the damage may have already been done by the time the danger has gone away.

"People do die of overexertion, but usually they have a pre-existing condition that no one knew about," he says. "There's the force on their body, the extra effort and the pressures can cause some weakened part of the body to give out."

shares

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

September 22, 2017
Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, ...

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.