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Can you die of embarrassment?

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In very rare cases, embarrassment could be lethal.

Asked by: Astrid Harbour, by email

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You sure can, although cases are rare. One, published in the British Medical Journal for 1860, concerned a housemaid who was caught red-handed while filching food from a larder, and dropped dead on the spot. Doctors at the time were unable to discover why she had died, although it is likely that one cause would have been a sudden rush of adrenalin - the same rush that we experience in any situation of stress.

A less direct way to die from embarrassment is to fail to report an embarrassing medical condition until it's too late. A survey by BUPA found that embarrassment about bowel cancer could be costing thousands of lives a year. Another, published by Johns Hopkins University, found many young people in the US are dying prematurely of AIDS for a similar reason.

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