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The Baskerville Effect

In 2009, a Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder for scaring a 79-year-old woman to death. After attempting to rob a bank, a young man broke into and hid in the home of 79-year-old Mary Parnell. He did not touch her, but scared her so much that she suffered a heart attack and died. The felony murder rule allows someone to be charged with murder if he or she causes another person's death while committing a crime.

How Fear Can Kill
When you are frightened, your adrenal glands release a hormone called adrenalin that helps to increase your strength or speed so you can fight or run away. Adrenalin makes your heart beat faster to bring more blood to your muscles, shunts blood from your intestines to your muscles, and widens your pupils so you can see more.

However, too much adrenaline can kill you. Adrenaline opens the calcium channels in heart muscle cells to force calcium inside these cells. This sudden rush of calcium inside heart muscle cells causes the heart muscle to contract. Filling heart muscle cells with calcium prevents the heart muscle from relaxing and causes it to stay contracted. This causes the heart to beat irregularly. The most common irregular heart beat that can kill you is called ventricular fibrillation which prevents the heart from pumping blood to your body.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
An article in the British Medical Journal suggested that being scared to death should be called "The Baskerville Effect" after a great detective story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (BMJ, 2001 December 22; 323(7327): 1443–1446). Doyle was not only a popular writer but also a physician who had extraordinary insights into the causes of disease more than a hundred years before there was scientific evidence to support his views.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" recounts the ancient legend of Sir Hugo Baskerville, an evil man who was killed by an extraordinarily huge and ferocious dog. Generations of the heirs to his large estate were rumored to be plagued by the same mysterious hound. Many years later, the most recent owner, Sir Charles Baskerville, has died from an apparent heart attack, surrounded by paw prints of a huge dog.

Sherlock Holmes is called in to help Sir Charles’ nephew and heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, who has taken over the immense estate. He is being intimidated by signs of the curse that he also will be killed by the monstrous dog.

Elementary, My Dear Watson
Detective Sherlock Holmes deducts that a butterfly collector who lives on the estate is really a relative of the Baskervilles who had returned from Africa, with a name that is not Baskerville, and that he is trying to kill Sir Henry so he can claim the huge estate for himself.

You can read this wonderful story at a variety of free sources such as:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2852
http://www.literature.org/authors/doyle-arthur-conan/hound/

November 3rd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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