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Can You Actually Be Scared to DEATH?!

Can You Be Scared to Death Image

Can You Actually Be Scared to DEATH?!

As you wander the dimly lit streets of an unknown neighbourhood, you begin to feel the hairs on your neck stand on end. You get a nervous feeling in your stomach and then before you know it, someone has jumped from the shadows and screamed, “BOO!” If you have ever had an experience like this, you probably recall your heart beating a mile a minute and the feeling like you are going to pass out with fear. We even say, “you scared me scared to death!”


But when you get spooked… can you truly be so startled that you are actually scared to death? The answer… YES! It is possible for a scare to lead to serious health consequences, and even death! Take a look at the science behind being scared to death and what your body and heart experience.


The Fight or Flight Response

As soon as that terrible person has jumped out of the shadows and screamed “BOO!” Your body will instantly react. You probably know the feeling of blood rushing to your face, your heart pounding in your ears, and the feeling of needing to protect yourself. These are all a part of the “fight or flight response.”


The fight or flight response is your body’s natural reaction to fear and is actually your nervous system responding to the extreme stress of an unexpected spook. The nervous system becomes activated and the hormone of adrenaline is released into the body and the blood stream. Once adrenaline is released into your system it can directly affect your body by:

  • Increasing your heart rateScared to Death Image Comic
  • Increasing your blood pressure
  • Enlarging the muscles (which helps to provide them with more oxygen to take necessary action)
  • Dilating your pupils
  • Reducing the feelings of pain
  • Heightening your awareness

Each of these changes will help you to either fight the danger ahead of you or run far away from it. Thanks to the released adrenaline (commonly called an adrenaline rush), you will feel less pain, react quicker, and have more energy and strength to fight or flee the present threat facing you!


Being Scared to Death

With all of these biological changes going on, your body undergoes a lot of stress – especially your heart! For those who may suffer from heart disease, have blood pressure problems, or other heart-related conditions, getting a good scare could send a person into a heart attack or cardiac arrest.


The reason a scare can cause a heart attack or a cardiac arrest (yes, the two are different!) is because of the extreme stress and pressure put upon the heart. The body experiences a burst of adrenaline which leads to increased blood pressure and a raised heart rate – these changes add extra stress on the arteries and heart muscles. If the heart is not prepared or healthy enough to handle this radical change, it will begin to fail. For example, when a heart is stressed it may lead to blocked blood flow (heart attack) or arrhythmia (the heart beating in a sporadic rhythm which leads to a cardiac arrest).

Take a look at this comical scene from Parks and Recreation where a simple scare-prank led to a serious heart attack!

Just because someone experiences a heart attack or cardiac arrest does not mean they will immediately die after being scared. Instead, it means that the heart will not beat normally and therefore will be unable to get enough oxygen to the body and the brain. Every minute without oxygen to the brain can lead to permanent brain damage or eventually death. It is said that the brain can last up to 6 minutes without oxygen before serious consequences occur. Essentially, to be scared to death, the following will occur:

  1. Person is scared
  2. Body reacts by pumping adrenaline into body
  3. Adrenaline causes increase blood pressure and heart rate (along with other changes)
  4. Heart is stressed and cannot handle this change and turns into arrhythmia
  5. Person experiences a cardiac arrest (unconscious, sporadic heart, oxygen not being delivered properly to brain and body)
  6. With no presence of an AED or CPR the person’s survival rate drops
  7. After more than 6 minutes of no oxygen or medical attention, the person begins to die

Before you go scaring someone this Halloween, ensure you have the skills to help if things go wrong! Don’t know CPR or how to use an AED? Sign up for a First Aid course and learn the skills to save a life!


How to Prepare for Frightened Hearts

If you are about to venture to scary locations this Halloween or you know of someone with a heart condition, stay prepared for any potential frightened hearts! Knowing how to properly perform CPR can be a life-saver for anyone who experiences a cardiac arrest. To improve the safety of those around you even more, having an AED around is the best option!


Heart Attack - Scared to DeathAn AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) is a life-saving device that will assess the heart rate of an individual and can administer shocks to help ‘kick’ the heart back into a normal rhythm. Having AEDs around will actually DOUBLE the chances of survival for anyone having a cardiac arrest. So, to protect those racing hearts and scared souls this Halloween, make sure your haunted event has an AED (contact us at info@firsteditionfirstaid.ca for AED rentals!) or have one readily accessible in your home!



Take care of your heart and others’ this Halloween and if you do plan on making someone jump out of their skin, be sure that an AED is nearby in case things take an unexpected turn! Stay safe and protect hearts this haunted holiday!

Happy Halloween!



Want to see the consequences of scaring people (and of pulling a prank on others)? Check out this prank gone wrong!

Warning: Video contains coarse language.


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