Scared to Death!!


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     It's just an old saying, right? It almost seems impossible or even ludicrous to die by being scared. I mean people are scared practically every day and they do not die. But then you have to wonder if it is at all possible, if someone is truly frightened can their heart stop? Or what causes fright to kill someone?
     UCSD sociologist David Phillips believes one can die from fright. He first got the idea from reading "The Hound of the Baskervilles." He then wondered if stress and fatal heart attacks were linked to this old saying. He conducted numerous lab studies, but non-fatal stressors could only be studied.  So he and his colleagues set out looking for a real life event, which indeed they did find one. Fatal heart attacks are quite common in the world and there's not enough evidence to prove that stress or fear is the number one cause for this fatal incident. Could it be just only the heart suffers from a fright attack or could the brain and other organs be affected to? (Here are some anecdotes about certain cases of fright deaths that I found pretty interesting).

     Fright deaths are more likely to happen to a person who has abnormal heart rhythms or heart disease. Many reported cases of these fright deaths happened to elderly men or women, but there are cases where young children have suffered this experience. ABC News says it is very rare for a person to be scared to death. And it's been noted that a person can not only die from fear but other intense emotions as well (though the largest category for intense emotional deaths is fear). Dr. Martin Samuels has documented certain cases in which a man playing golf and a bowler died from excitement, not fear.  He suggests that this intense emotions cause death now because back in our primitive ancestors time, it helped them to survive, but because we don't feel these emotions as intensely anymore it can cause death in certain people. Dr. Samuels goes on to explain that in a life threatening situations our autonomous nervous system kicks into gear. It communicates with the brain to trigger the secretion of hormones from the nervous system and the adrenal glands. Hormones, such as adrenaline, are released into organs to help improve our chances of survival by fighting or running away.  During this secretion, the chemicals cause major stress for the organs and cause a person to drop dead on spot. I find this explanation to be better than others I've read, because when a person is scared they do feel like their life is in danger. So it makes sense that the more danger you feel, the more intense the emotion will be and therefor more hormones and chemicals your body will release in itself, right?

     Scientists still are not completely sure why some people die of fright and others don't, but when they do find it they will use the knowledge to prevent such deaths from happening. 

2 Comments

Like you said, this article explains how being emotionally excited makes our "fight or flight" instinct kicks in and therefore released adrenaline into the blood stream. We know that adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, among other effects. I think that some people are "scared to death" because they may already have a weak heart and are at a much higher risk for a heart attack and when something that is incredibly scary or otherwise emotionally charged happens, too much adrenaline is released for their weaker heart to be able to handle all of the stimulation, resulting in a heart attack from rapid heart beat.

I think this particular comparison is more of a correlation rather than direct causation. As you said, many other factors go into being literally “scared to death.” The people who supposedly died of fright you said had an “abnormal heart rhythm or heart disease,” two things that ironically lead to heart attacks as well. So this evidence does not support your argument, but rather the argument that these people merely died of heart abnormalities or a heart attack. The particular feeling of fear is hard to associate with the direct reason of death because, who does not feel some aspect of fear when he/she is on their death bed? In the last precious moments of life, whether it is expected or not, of course people will feel scared. I personally don’t know how science could prove this as being a legitimate cause of death when other confounding factors are almost always present and could most likely be the real cause.

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