Thursday, February 14, 2019 2:49 PM

Can Stress Break Your Heart? A Look at Takotsubo Syndrome


Stress is part of life. No matter how skillfully we defuse it or how hard we try to avoid it, stress comes. And when our hearts have had too much, takotsubo can kick in.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – or “broken heart syndrome” – is a heart condition often brought on by stressful situations, a serious physical illness or surgery. It’s usually temporary, but symptoms like sudden chest pain and shortness of breath can mimic a heart attack.

Broken heart syndrome is often triggered by events like:

  • Losing your job
  • Getting a divorce
  • Loss of a loved one
  • A scary medical diagnosis
  • Domestic abuse
  • A big argument
  • A surprise party
  • Stage fright
  • Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, a car accident or major surgery

Are you at risk for a broken heart?

Risk factors of broken heart syndrome include:
  • Sex. Women are affected more often than men.
  • Age. Most people with broken heart syndrome are older than 50.
  • A history of a neurological condition. You’re at an increased risk if you have a head injury or seizure disorder, like epilepsy.
  • A previous or current psychiatric disorder. Anxiety or depression put you at higher risk for takotsubo.

Broken heart syndrome is different than a heart attack because, even though blood flow in the arteries may be reduced and part of the heart isn’t working properly, broken heart syndrome isn’t caused by fatty buildup in the artery walls.

The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable and the condition usually returns to normal in days or weeks. But it can be serious and even fatal in rare cases.

Any long-lasting or persistent chest pain, shortness of breath or a rapid, irregular heartbeat after a stressful event, could be serious. Call 911 or seek medical assistance immediately.


After a cancer diagnosis, Patricia experienced takotsubo. Here’s her story: