Did you know that the very act of scaring someone could kill them? We're not talking about someone with an unknown heart condition. We are talking about literally scaring a clinically healthy person to death! The result lies in scaring someone so intensely that their heart literally stops. So why is this?
The phenomenon is called "stress cardiomyopathy" or "broken heart syndrome," and the heart failure is due to a drastic, stressful event, whether good or bad.
Older women, particularly those that are post-menopausal, are most at risk to be scared to death. When a stressful event happens, the adrenaline levels spike, literally stopping the heart, no matter how healthy the blood flow is. The condition was originally identified by Japanese scientists in 1990. In the United States, the condition, as mentioned earlier, is called "Broken Heart Syndrome" because most of the time the victim dies after hearing about the unexpected death of a loved one.
The reason cardiomyopathy syndrome happens is that the sympathetic nervous system is activated and fails to regulate itself. Instead of the usual "fight or flight" reaction, which increases perspiration, respiration and heart rate as well as a rush of hormones, the reaction accelerates enough that the heart becomes damaged. For years doctors have been baffled at this condition because the patients had seemingly healthy hearts and good circulation.
The symptoms of being scared to death are identical to that of a heart attack: sweating, shortness of breath and trouble breathing. Doctors have compared these cases to classic heart attacks but they have not been able to find blockages or tell-tale signs of heart attack. However, experts suspect that the culprits are the tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. These small vessels are not examined regularly in people with heart problems.
Any good or bad experience can cause one's heart to stop. The reason is that the large rush of adrenaline perhaps stuns the heart muscle. A person with stress cardiomyopathy that survives returns to normal within days or weeks. Whereas, a heart attack patient retains a damaged heart for the rest of their lives.
People that have this heart condition scare have a small chance of it reoccurring. About 5 percent may have another episode, but post-menopausal women are most at risk.
Who would have thought the saying, "scared to death" was actually a possibility? Let us all be vigilant in recognizing stressors in our lives and protecting the vulnerable.