Tampa heart doctor says stress affects the heart and you can be 'scared to death'

Fact or Fiction on fear and your heart

Tampa, Fla - Can you be scared to death?

Dr. Charles lambert is the Medical Director of Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute and he's seen a lot of stressed hearts. 

"The answer is yes. You can be scared to death."

Dr. Lambert says a shock to the system that is intense enough could trigger a surge of adrenaline and a reaction that could damage or even stop your heart.

Your body has a natural mechanism called the fight or flight response. 

When you are scared, your nervous system responds by increasing your heart rate and increasing the blood flow to your muscles.

Some people actually like that feeling and seeking the thrill by coming to places like haunted houses.

But when does that become dangerous?

 "There are arrhythmia's, there is angina or chest pain, there can be heart attacks or a takotsubo  type of thing due to emotional  stress.  There's a whole spectrum of stress related cardiomyopathies. There's a case in 2009 where a guy actually got convicted of manslaughter, I think, for scaring a little old lady to death," Dr. Lambert said.

And Dr. Lambert points to a study at the University of Florida that showed an increase in cardiac deaths during an usually busy hurricane season here in Florida.

"The UF study was related defibrillators. So, these are patients that already have sick hearts but the advantage of having a defibrillator other than it can shocks you when you have a bad or lethal arrhythmia, is it records what your heart is doing. So what those investigators documented during one of our bad hurricane seasons that the defibrillators went off more frequently and they recorded arrhythmia's more frequently."

He said the same kind of thing was shown around 9/11. It's been shown around earthquakes, but how about after a trip through a regular ole haunted house?

"If you are bottom line healthy you're not going to be scared in a haunted house and drop dead but stress is a real phenomenon and it can definitely affect your heart," Dr. Lambert said.

He also said being scared to death is rare, but does happen, so know the signs of a distressed heart: chest pain of course, sweating, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.


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