Empirical and theoretical literature suggests that stereotypical gender roles shape men's and women's health help-seeking behavior, and plays an important role in the treatment seeking delays of cardiac patients. We were interested in exploring the ways in which gender informs the experiences and help-seeking behavior of men and women who experienced the symptoms associated with acute cardiac events. We undertook 20 in-depth interviews between October 2007 and July 2008 with 11 men and 9 women recently diagnosed with an acute coronary syndrome in British Columbia, Canada. Participants were encouraged to tell their 'story' of the event that led to hospitalization and diagnosis, with a focus on the symptoms and decision making processes that occurred before and during the activation of health services: seeking the advice of others including colleagues, family members and healthcare professionals; calling 911; and attending an emergency department. Although we anticipated that distinctive patterns of help-seeking behavior aligned with stereotypical masculine and feminine ideals might emerge from our data, this was not always the case. We found some evidence of the influence of gender role ideology on the help-seeking behavior of both male and female participants. However, men's and women's experiences of seeking health care were not easily parsed into distinct binary gender patterns. Behavior that might stereotypically be considered to be 'masculine' or 'feminine' gender practice was shared by both male and female participants. Our findings undermine simple binary distinctions about gendered help-seeking prevalent in the literature, and contribute towards setting the direction of the future health policy and research agenda addressing the issue of gender and health help-seeking behavior.
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