You Really Can Be Scared to Death


Dying of Fright or Broken Heart Syndrome

The massive rush of adrenaline may also temporarily stun the cardiac heart muscle into inaction, Wittstein said. This may explain why the heart of someone who's had an episode of stress cardiomyopathy will return to normal in just a few days or weeks whereas with the damage from a standard heart attack usually remains for the rest of a person's life.

The triggering event doesn't necessarily have to be bad news. Samuels said he has treated cases of stress cardiomyopathy preceded by shooting a hole in one on the golf course, bowling a perfect game and a not guilty verdict in court.

"Any highly emotional event whether positive or negative can set it off," he said.

Reoccurrence is low. Studies show only about a 5 percent of patients have more than one attack, though Wittstein said it seems some individuals are highly susceptible to the syndrome. He has one patient who has had five episodes.

Fortunately it seems to take a real bombshell to stun the average heart into cardiomyopathy. Halloween in and of itself probably isn't enough of a fright to get the job done unless a patient is a true believer in ghosts and goblins, Samuels speculated.

Still, why take chances? Better to go with the treats and skip the tricks.

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