A clinical entity characterized by acute but rapidly reversible left ventricular (LV) systolic dysfunction and triggered by psychological stress is emerging, with reports largely confined to Japan. Over a 32-month period, 22 consecutive patients with this novel cardiomyopathy were prospectively identified within a community-based practice in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn, area. All patients were women aged 32 to 89 years old (mean 65+/-13 years); 21 (96%) were > or =50 years of age. The syndrome is characterized by (1) acute substernal chest pain with ST-segment elevation and/or T-wave inversion; (2) absence of significant coronary arterial narrowing by angiography; (3) systolic dysfunction (ejection fraction 29+/-9%), with abnormal wall motion of the mid and distal LV, ie, "apical ballooning"; and (4) profound psychological stress (eg, death of relatives, domestic abuse, arguments, catastrophic medical diagnoses, devastating financial or gambling losses) immediately preceding and triggering the cardiac events. A significant proportion of patients (37%) had hemodynamic compromise and required vasopressor agents and intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation. Each patient survived with normalized ejection fraction (63+/-6%; P<0.001) and rapid restoration to previous functional cardiovascular status within 6+/-3 days. In 95%, MRI identified diffusely distributed segmental wall-motion abnormalities that encompassed LV myocardium in multiple coronary arterial vascular territories. A reversible cardiomyopathy triggered by psychologically stressful events occurs in older women and may mimic evolving acute myocardial infarction or coronary syndrome. This condition is characterized by a distinctive form of systolic dysfunction that predominantly affects the distal LV chamber and a favorable outcome with appropriate medical therapy.