Stendhal Syndrome: Beauty can make tourists ill!

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the beauty of an art piece that you feel physically or mentally ill? Some claim that there is a possibility of developing this condition, and it’s called Stendhal syndrome. Believed to be native to Florence, Italy, this is a rare phenomenon that causes panic among tourists.

As per reports, a tourist suffered a heart attack in 2018 while admiring the well-known Italian painting “The Birth of Venus” pained by artist Sandro Botticelli. The incident wasn’t dismissed as a coincidence and doctors found a correlation between the cardiac condition and the beauty of the picture.

What is Stendhal syndrome
Stendhal syndrome is common in Florence. Image Courtesy: Freepik

History of Stendhal syndrome

Reports suggest that the term Stendhal Syndrome was first coined by Dr Graziella Magherini, psychologist at Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, in 1979. She noticed a trend of psychological problems in tourists who were being treated at the ward. She had observed that tourists who visited historical places all throughout the city experienced similar symptoms, including shortness of breath, psychological anguish and heart palpitations. The syndrome was first described by her in a book called La sindrome di Stendhal, published in 1989.

Studies suggest that this syndrome only affects tourists who get overwhelmed by the beauty of a work of art. It might sound bizarre, but this condition exists. Health Shots got in touch with Dr Sunil Singla, Director and Head of Department, Neurology, Sanar International Hospitals, to understand more about Stendhal syndrome.

What is Stendhal syndrome and its symptoms?

Dr Sunil Singla explains Stendhal syndrome as a “physical and mental psychosomatic response of our body, evoked by the visualization of great art like painting, architecture, statues, etc.” Symptoms of the condition may include:

  • Uncanny feelings
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

These symptoms are generally experienced after exposure to beautiful art or architecture as a tourist. This is never triggered by natural beauty, avers the expert.

What is Stendhal syndrome?
What are Stendhal syndrome and its symptoms? Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

He further explains that symptoms are transient and self-limiting in most cases. There is only one case of probable Stendhal syndrome reported 3 years ago where the patient suffered a heart attack while watching a painting. So, this happens rarely and only a few cases have been reported so far.

Can it be treated?

Since there is no specific line of treatment for this disorder and symptoms are transient, reassurance and counselling are the best treatment options for most patients. However, if symptoms persist, patients can be prescribed anti-anxiety pills for a short duration, advises Dr Singla. Also, it is best to connect with your doctor to avoid complications.

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