Causes of Heart Attack: Can Fear Cause a Heart Attack?
Causes of Heart Attack: Can a person be scared to death?
A 79-year-old North Carolina woman dies after a heart attack brought on by terror.
A Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman whom police said he scared to death. In an attempt to elude cops after a botched bank robbery, the Associated Press reports that 20-year-old Larry Whitfield broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say he didn’t touch Parnell but that she died after suffering a heart attack that was triggered by terror.
Yes, according to medical professionals, extreme fear can set a series of chain reactions in our bodies’ physiology that could trigger a heart attack and in some cases sudden death. Our body has a natural inbuilt mechanism to protect from real and perceived danger. This a protective system we have been programmed with, that has helped us survived the harsh reality of our evolutionary past. Our ancestors had to hunt for food to survive, while avoid falling prey to large predatory animals like lions, tigers, etc.. This mechanism is called Fight/Fight/Freeze response. This Fight/Fight/Freeze response was first described by Walter Cannon chairman of Harvard University in the physiology department (1906 to 1942).
When our ancestors were confronted with a wild animal, they had three choices. Either fight and kill the animal, run away (flight) or freeze and hope that they would not be detected by the predatory animal.
In such life-threatening situations (real or perceived), the autonomic (involuntary) nervous (ANS) system responds by setting off a series of rapid changes in our body. These changes include increasing heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, dilating the pupils, and slowing digestion. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) triggers the release of stress hormones (Adrenaline, cortisol, and others) and neurotransmitters that results in the body’s response described earlier.
The rush of Adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster and the arteries to tighten (constrict)/spasm. Depending on the magnitude of the Adrenaline rush and other factors the heart could get into an abnormal rhythm (referred to as arrhythmia) in this extreme case, it could result in sudden cardiac arrest and death.
In a person that has plaque (fatty deposits) buildup in their arterial wall, the artery spasm could cause the plaque to break free, travel down the bloodstream, and block narrow arteries in the heart resulting in a heart attack.
Is the Super Bowl killing you? Other emotional conditions besides fear could lead to cardiac arrest or heart attack
There are many cases reported that strong positive or negative emotions such as happiness or sadness can result in similar conditions. There was a case of a golfer who hit his first hole in one—and then he dropped dead (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-11-13/sports/9411130229_1_emil-kijek-morris-dumont-golf ).
A study in Germany found an increase of sudden cardiac deaths on the days that the German soccer team was playing in the World Cup.
A new study suggests that the emotional stress fans feel during the Super Bowl after a loss may trigger fatal heart attacks, especially in people who already have heart disease. (http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/31/super.bowl.heart.attacks/ )
For about seven days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there was an increase of sudden cardiac arrests and heart attacks among New Yorkers. Similar incidents have been reported after natural disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.