ANDERSON — The idea of dying is scary enough, but doctors say you can actually be so overwhelmed by your feelings that it can kill you.
"There is a type of heart attack that can happen during acute, sudden stress where someone might be just completely overwhelmed from grief or emotional sadness," said Dr. Preetham Jetty, a cardiologist with Community Hospital Anderson. "It can literally cause a person to have a heart attack."
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) happens when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops.
Most people who experience SCA die within minutes, Jetty said.
"If you have it and it doesn’t kill you the prognosis is actually pretty good," said Dr. Adam Greene, a cardiologist with St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.
Both Jetty and Greene said SCA is a little more complicated than just being startled.
"It’s not from someone coming up and saying boo," Greene said. "It would be the kind of situation when you are under really serious emotional stress. Like witnessing or being the victim of a really serious crime.
"Usually if you get spooked by a kid in a costume, it is over in two to four minutes. It would have to be an extended experience so the stress does not go away quickly."
SCA can happen when a person has a malfunction with the heart's electrical system causing irregular heartbeats called an arrhythmia the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says. This means someone who has not been diagnosed with any heart diseases and someone who appears perfectly healthy, can actually die from SCA.
Jetty said each year he sees cases where people have suffered from SCA.
"I had a lady who visited her brother who had just passed away, she looked at his face in the coffin and became so overwhelmed with grief her heart stopped," he said. "We revived her and she is doing fine now."
Greene said intense emotional situations like domestic abuse or even natural disasters like earthquakes can also trigger SCA.
"It’s like a really severe situation," Greene said. "More women than men have it and post menopausal women have a higher risk."
According to the Heart Rhythm Society, 95 percent of the victims who experience SCA die before they can reach a hospital or medical attention. The society also says that SCA is a leading cause of death with more than 350,000 deaths each year.
Greene said no one knows what causes SCA, but it is more common than people may realize.
Both doctors recommend that people quit smoking, exercise more, avoid excessive alcohol and eat a healthy diet to reduce their chances of experiencing a SCA.
"Those are the major things you can do," Greene said.
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Are you at risk? According to the Heart Rhythm Society, a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can occur without any symptoms to people of all ages and health conditions. The organization offers a free online test to help people determine their risk of experiencing SCA. All findings from this online tool should be discussed with your physician. The assessment can be found at www.scarisk.org. Source: Heart Rhythm Society