Impact of long-term stress in Takotsubo syndrome: Experience of patients

Eur J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2016 Dec;15(7):522-528. doi: 10.1177/1474515115618568. Epub 2015 Nov 16.


Background: The connection between stress and disease has been part of folk wisdom for a long time and has even made its way into our language with phrases such as 'scared to death' and 'a broken heart'. Takotsubo syndrome is a form of acute, reversible heart failure characterized by ballooning of the left ventricle. Post-menopausal women are primarily affected, but cases have been described in both sexes and at all ages. The complete pathophysiology is unknown, but the disease has been connected to psychological or physical stress and a surge in catecholamines. Despite the strong connection with stress, knowledge about the life of patients before the onset of Takotsubo syndrome is lacking.

Aim: The aim of this study was to describe and interpret patients' narratives about long-term stress experienced before the onset of Takotsubo syndrome.

Method: Nineteen people diagnosed with Takotsubo syndrome were interviewed. The narrative interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The resulting texts were analysed using phenomenological hermeneutics.

Results: The analysis revealed that the interviewees lived under stressful circumstances, characterized by feeling burdened by responsibilities, injustice and uncertainty, long before the onset of Takotsubo syndrome. This long-term stress wore down the defences of the interviewees to the degree that their capacity was exhausted and the smallest stressor could 'tip them over the edge'. The findings indicated that the social structure of gender possibly contributed to the interviewees' condition.

Conclusions: These findings indicated that long-term stressful circumstances may cause vulnerability to acute psychological or physical stressors and, subsequently, to the onset of Takotsubo syndrome.

Keywords: Takotsubo cardiomyopathy; Takotsubo syndrome; gender theory; phenomenological hermeneutics; qualitative method; stress.

MeSH terms

  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy / psychology*