Is it possible to be so scared that you could actually die? Chances are, you’ve heard someone say they were “scared to death” once or twice. Clearly, they weren’t actually scared to death or they wouldn’t be telling you that story. That being said, it is possible for a person to get so scared that they die suddenly. This is especially true if they have certain health conditions which make them more vulnerable to begin with.

Just how exactly is one scared to death? When you experience any level of fear, your body automatically pumps out a hormone called adrenaline. That’s right, this is the same stuff they use in hospitals to restart a heart that has stopped beating. It’s used in a clinical setting because adrenaline has a direct impact on the heart itself. If it’s capable of getting a stopped heart beating again, you might be able to guess what an overload of adrenaline in the body could potentially do to one that is already beating.

Obviously, the more fear you feel, the more adrenaline you have coursing through your veins. If the level of fear is so encompassing that enough adrenaline is produced, it is possible for the heart to stop beating. When this much adrenaline is present, calcium also enters the heart in large amounts. The presence of too much calcium in the heart causes it to beat erratically as opposed to beating in a coordinated fashion. In addition, the adrenaline itself irritates the heart muscle and causes it to become overworked. When the two are combined, it can send the heart into a potentially deadly rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. It’s a medical term for a heart that is just quivering instead of pumping blood to the rest of the body. If medical intervention isn’t available to restore the heart to its normal rhythm, the individual in question will die within a matter of minutes.

In reality, this is something that can happen to anyone, even young and otherwise healthy people. However, it is more likely to happen to someone who already has issues with their heart, such as a previous heart attack or a heart rhythm disorder. If you’re concerned, you can try to limit your exposure to things that scare you. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. However, it is possible to use meditation, exercise, or other techniques to help you better control your reaction to fear. Next time you get really scared, notice how your heart beats. You may notice that it starts to beat very fast and you might even notice that it skips beats. Being more aware of your heartbeat can help you work to control how you react to certain stimuli, including fear. This in turn can help you better protect your heart.