Yes, You Really Can Be ‘Scared To Death’!

Scared African American manHere’s something to keep in mind this Halloween: Yes, fear can kill you – even if you are in good health.

According to experts, when individuals feel an overwhelming fear – whether it’s real or perceived — their fight-or-flight response goes into high gear.

Whether you like it or not, your body is prewired to enter this state — also known as stress response — when faced with unknown factors, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While normal symptoms accompanied by the response system may include sweaty palms, dry mouth, knots in your stomach, or even butterflies, a more serious reaction may result in your death.

When your body enters fight-or-flight, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, pupils dilate, muscles tighten, and your blood pressure begins to rise. You’re ready to act. Unfortunately, as your adrenaline levels rise, you’re left vulnerable to heart damage.

When released, adrenaline triggers calcium channels in the heart to open. “Calcium rushes into the heart cells, which causes the heart muscle to contract strongly,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Live Science. “Basically, in a massive response, the calcium keeps on pouring in, and the heart muscles can’t relax.”

In other words, in the event a person is “scared to death,” a large amount of adrenaline will reach his or her heart, developing an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (VF) — a rapid, life-threatening heart rhythm starting in the bottom chambers of the heart., causing your heart not to beat regularly as it should.

“It ultimately leads to a drop in blood pressure, because without blood for the brain, you lose consciousness,” Glatter added.

Take for instance the case of a Charlotte, N.C. man, Larry Whitfield, who was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman, Mary Parnell, whom police said he scared to death in 2008. In an attempt to evade authorities after a bungled bank robbery, the Associated Press reported that the 20-year-old broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say that while Whitfield didn’t touch Parnell, she died after suffering a heart attack which was triggered by terror.

The significance? High blood pressure aka the “silent killer” was listed as a primary or contributing cause in “more than 360,000 American deaths in 2013,” That’s roughly 1,000 deaths each day. As you may know, African Americans develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than Whites and Hispanics. Furthermore, more Black women than men have high blood pressure – 45.7 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

Fear isn’t the stand alone trigger, researchers say. Anything from foul smells to intercourse, sporting events, religious intensity, and being held at gun point, can cause extreme levels of adrenaline to flood your gates. The lesson? Beware of ghouls, ghosts and goblins folks! All jokes aside, though, puling a perfectly horrific prank on your loved one may sound like a good idea, but the outcome could be dreadful.