Medical matters: Can acute fear actually curdle blood?

And other questions on the lighter side of health matters - what is a condominium?

Results suggest that using the term “bloodcurdling” to describe feeling extreme fear is justified, say the researchers.

Results suggest that using the term “bloodcurdling” to describe feeling extreme fear is justified, say the researchers.

 

For many of you it’s back to work this week after an extended break. So, in the time-honoured tradition of not overly taxing readers’ brains, this week’s column is of the light and frothy variety.

The Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal is devoted to quirky research that researchers would not even attempt to submit to the staid journal during the rest of the year. One study caught my eye: Can acute fear actually curdle blood?

Is watching horror, or “bloodcurdling”, movies associated with an increase in the blood-clotting coagulant factor VIII? Dutch researchers wondered. They set out to assess whether acute fear can curdle blood, which they say posses an important evolutionary benefit, by preparing the body for blood loss during life-threatening situations.

The term “bloodcurdling” dates back to medieval times and is based on the concept that fear or horror would “run the blood cold” or “curdle” (congeal) blood, but the validity of this theory has never been researched.

The study involved 24 healthy volunteers recruited among students and employees of the Leiden University Medical Centre. Fourteen watched a frightening movie, followed by a non-threatening (educational) movie. Ten others watched the films in reverse order.

Before and after each film, blood samples were taken and analysed for markers or “fear factors” of clotting activity.

Blood coagulant factor VIII levels increased in 12 participants (57 per cent) during the horror movie, but only in three (14 per cent) during the educational movie. Levels decreased in 18 participants (86 per cent) during the educational movie, but only in nine (43 per cent) during the horror movie.

The results suggest that using the term “bloodcurdling” to describe feeling extreme fear is justified, say the researchers. But they found no effect of either film type on levels of other clot-forming proteins, suggesting that although coagulation is triggered by acute fear, this does not lead to actual clot formation.

Exam laughs I was also amused by some allegedly true answers to questions set in GCSE examinations in the UK. I’ve picked out some health-related ones for your delectation. A definite improvement on the Christmas cracker jokes. Q. What happens to your body as you age? A. When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental. Q. What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty? A. He says goodbye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.

Q. Name a major disease associated with cigarettes. A. Premature death.

Q. What is artificial insemination? A. When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow.

Q. Give an example of a fungus and what is a characteristic feature? A. Mushrooms. They always grow in damp places and they look like umbrellas.

Q. What does the word ‘benign’ mean? A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Q. How are the main parts of the body categorised (eg abdomen)? A. The body is consisted into (sic) three parts – the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels: A, E, I,O,U.

Q. What is the fibula? A. A small lie.

Q. What does ‘varicose’ mean? A. Nearby.

Q. What is the most common form of birth control? A. Most people prevent contraception by wearing a condominium.

Q. Give the meaning of the term ‘Caesarean section’. A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome.

Q. What is a seizure? A. A Roman emperor.

Q. What is a terminal illness? A. When you are sick at the airport.

And my favourite, although not health-related: “What guarantees may a mortgage company insist on? If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed.”

I would like to wish all Medical Matters readers the very best of health in 2016.

mhouston@irishtimes.com

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