Background: Men and women are known to delay in seeking medical attention when experiencing acute cardiac symptoms. However, women are more likely to have had chronic undifferentiated symptoms prior to an acute episode and then when experiencing an acute episode delay longer than do men. Studies have shown once women do present they tend to be further along the disease trajectory than men.
Aims: The aim of this study was to explore women's own interpretation of the presenting symptoms they experienced.
Methods: Twenty-nine women consented to take part in semi-structured interviews that focussed on their experience of coronary heart disease (CHD). The women's narrative around the initial disruption of their illness was analysed focusing on routine and reconstructed forms of narration.
Results: The results showed that many failed to recognise and act on their symptoms. Most only sought medical attention after family or friends intervened. None of the women had seen themselves at risk of developing coronary heart disease despite many have a strong family history.
Conclusion: The women's early symptoms of coronary heart disease were often undifferentiated and difficult to interpret by the women themselves. There is a need for further research to understand and recognise early symptoms of coronary heart disease in women. This will allow women and health professionals to assess risk and identify women with coronary heart disease early on in their disease trajectory so therapy to prevent the morbidity associated with coronary heart disease and acute life threatening episodes will be reduced.