The illness perceptions of women following symptoms of acute myocardial infarction: a self-regulatory approach

Julie D MacInnes
European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 2006, 5 (4): 280-8

BACKGROUND: Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) has been socially constructed as a gender-specific disease with women not seen to be at risk. Women tend to delay seeking help following the onset of symptoms of acute myocardial infarction (MI). An illness perceptions approach has been used to explain treatment-seeking behaviour.

AIMS: The aim of this study was to explore the illness perceptions of a sample of women following acute MI using the self-regulatory model of illness behaviour as the theoretical framework.

METHODS: Ten women, with a range of ages, took part in semi-structured interviews, 3 months following an acute infarct. Data were analysed thematically according to the theoretical framework.

RESULTS: The development of a serious model of the illness and the decision to seek help was influenced by the experience of severe, unusual symptoms especially if of sudden onset; the absence of co-morbidities and similarities to the known experience of others. Perceived lack of susceptibility to the disease and a belief that symptoms were benign may have resulted in a delay in seeking help. Coping strategies were initially aimed at relieving symptoms before seeking help from families and friends. This resulted in a call for professional help.

CONCLUSION: Health promotion strategies need to emphasis the uniqueness of the individual's experience. Interventions designed to alter illness perceptions may influence treatment-seeking behaviour.

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