Spooky Health Effects of a Good Scare

How fear affects your body.

ByABC News
October 28, 2013, 1:30 PM
The different health effects of being scared.
The different health effects of being scared.
Getty Images

Oct. 28, 2013 — -- intro:An intense scare can do more than elicit a good scream; it can physically affect the body as the neurological system releases intense chemicals in response to a threat.

For most the response to a fright is more or less harmless, with the body becoming primed to fight or flight its way out of a bad situation.

But in extremely rare cases people have literally been "scared to death" after a surge of adrenaline and other chemicals causes the heart to malfunction.

With Halloween around the corner, we've talked to experts in order to understand exactly what happens when you suffer a good scare.

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category: The Effects of A Good Scare

title: Blinded by Fear


text: It turns out you can be so frightened you can temporarily lose your sight or hearing.

Dr. Martin Samuels, chair of the department of neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said the reaction is part of the "fight or flight" response during which the brain redirects all energy to vital body functions.

"You can have severe a fright [that] can cause any part of your nervous system to fail," said Samuels. "Why this happen is related to adrenaline-like substances, [they go into the] bloodstream and affect all the organs.

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category: The Effects of A Good Scare

title: Going White Overnight url:

text: There's little proof that a good fright will turn a person's hair white instantly, but there is a condition that makes it appear as though you've gone grey virtually overnight.

People who suffer from telogen effluvium lose older hair follicles rapidly. As they lose hair, grey strands that were hidden and are often newer, become more prominent, making them appear grey almost overnight.

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Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said the hair loss usually comes three months after a big emotional event.

"It can be emotionally stressful or physically stressful, even such as an infection or surgery," said Zeichner. "The most common situation is post-partum women."

Fortunately the situation is usually temporary and within about a year the hair will grow back. Although Zeichner cautions he "can't guarantee the hair won't come back grey."

For a worst-case scenario there's always the hairdresser.

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category: The Effects of A Good Scare

title: Moving in Slow Motion



People who have gone through a sudden traumatic event often describe the feeling of time "slowing down" or moving in "slow motion."

Dr. Martin Samuels at Brigham and Women's Hospital said that the slow motion feeling is part of the body's "fight or flight" response, where your brain will only let you focus on a perceived threat.

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As adrenaline and other drugs flood the system, they can make a person hyper-focused on the danger.

"It's called a dissociative state," said Samuels. "It's a kind of hypnosis…where your nervous system is focused on one job and everything else is held at bay."

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category: The Effects of A Good Scare

title: Pale as a Ghost



After being scared, a person will sometimes be described as looking as "pale as a ghost." But it turns out that the phrase has evolutionary roots.

When faced with a threat, the body will instantly start sending blood to vital organs and muscles to help with either a potential fight or flight.