Voodoo Death — Is It Possible To Be Scared To Death?
I've often heard the term, "You almost scared me to death!" or "It scared the life out of me!" Is it really possible to be so frightened that it actually causes your death?
The term, "Voodoo Death" was coined by Walter Cannon in 1942 to describe cases where a spell or sorcery was thought to be the cause. It was based on the fight-or-flight response.
The victim feels helplessly doomed. So helpless, they stop eating and drinking. Cannon concluded that an adrenaline surge drew essential fluids out of the blood, leading to such a low blood pressure that it produces shock, eventually leading to death.
Is it true? Can people really be frightened to death through an adrenaline rush?
We still don't know the whole story of how the automatic nervous system causes death but Cannon was half right in his hypothesis, but not quite in the way he envisioned it!
We do know that Voodoo death ends at the heart. Tremendous surges in adrenaline can destroy heart cells directly. The brain allows the heart to beat irregularly and eventually to arrest. Emotional stress can stun the heart, like a cramp, turning the heart muscle, hard as rock.
This explains sudden death in stroke victims, people who have seizures, head trauma and people going through experiences like natural disasters, tornados or earthquakes. It is also what happens when people get tasered by the police using electronic weapons.
So, yes we can die of fright, when the adrenals kick-in, initiating the fight-or-flight response, the sympathetic nervous system runs into overdrive, like a car stuck in first gear for too long, it just literally burns itself out, driven by sheer fear into physical exhaustion until it breaks down and we collapse and die.
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