Can too much excitement kill you? It did for a 70 year-old woman who met Barack Obama

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 10, 2012

Last week, 70-year-old Josephine "Ann" Harris, owner of Ann's Place diner in Akron, Ohio, was so excited by Barack Obama's sudden visit to her restaurant, she suffered a heart attack and died, reports the Akron Beacon Journal. The heart attack wasn't immediate, having occurred several hours after the President's departure. And Harris had previously suffered two other heart attacks, plus a stroke, indicating a pre-existing heart condition.

But it raises an interesting question, posed by Slate magazine — can you die from excitement? The short answer, unfortunately, is yes.

"It does happen," says Kori Kingsbury, chief executive officer of the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario. "We know there are some people who experience an extreme event of stress. But what it really comes down to is how at risk a person was, to begin with."

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Kingsbury explains that some people are asymptomatic and have no idea they are at risk for having a cardiac event, but an episode of intense stress will release hormones that can actually trigger an event.

The Slate story points to several other episodes of people suffering cardiac events from excitement, including a Taiwanese man who suffered a stroke after watching Avatar and a child who had an asthma attack followed by a heart attack while opening birthday presents.

"It really points to the fact that, as much as we know about heart disease, there's still a lot that we have yet to learn," says Kingsbury. "While be know a lot about risk factors, people who have absolutely no risk, can still have what we call a cardiac event"

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Kingsbury urges everyone — even people who are seemingly healthy — to know what their risk of heart disease is. For those who are not sure, the Heart & Stroke Foundation offers a Heart & Stroke Risk Assessment on their website and includes a list of high risk factors for heart disease, including:

•High blood pressure (hypertension)

•High blood cholesterol

•Diabetes

•Being overweight

•Excessive alcohol consumption

•Physical inactivity

•Smoking

•Stress

"If you're a smoker, stop smoking," says Kingsbury. "If you're overweight, lose weight. Even losing small amounts of weight, even losing ten pounds, can make a difference in your blood pressure. So these are not insurmountable targets."

She adds that even breaking up a sedentary lifestyle with 30 minutes of walking a day can decrease a person's risk of heart disease.

Check out the video below debunking some weight loss myths.

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