Healthy Living

Can You Be Scared to Death?

Oct. 29, 2013
As we creep toward Halloween, ghosts and goblins are everywhere. Many people are thrilled by the chills that this holiday brings—lining up for haunted hayrides, frightening mansions and scare-fests—all in good fun.
But could it go terribly wrong? Cardiologist Dr. Eugene Storozynsky says yes, those ghouls could frighten you to death.
In fact, research tells us that people who have pre-existing heart conditions or are prone to irregular heartbeats may be more likely to experience a scare that could trigger adrenaline causing their heart to beat irregularly and even stop.
Halloween jack-o-latern
Adrenaline Can Backfire
Under normal circumstances, adrenaline is a valuable neurotransmitter triggering our “fight or flight” response, which protects us in stressful situations. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and, subsequently, blood flow to muscles to allow us to "fight" or "take flight." But too much adrenaline can be toxic leading to irregular heart rhythms and, if it becomes overwhelming, causing the heart to stop beating.
Other Ways Adrenaline Can Kill
It’s not only terror that can kill. Any overwhelming emotion—positive or negative—can be fatal. People have died during intercourse or in the throes of religious fervor. A German study found an increase of sudden cardiac deaths on the day the national soccer team was playing for the World Cup.
Bottom line? You may consider avoiding the over-the-top haunted house. And if you suffer with heart disease, you especially may want to skip the tricks and go directly for the treats. The healthy ones, of course.
Eugene Storonzynzky MD
Eugene Storozynsky, M.D., Ph.D., of UR Medicine’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation, cares for people with advanced heart disease and those with heart transplants and heart pumps (VAD). He specializes in cardiac complications of cancer and cancer therapy.