With the advent of thrombolytic therapy and other coronary reperfusion strategies, rapid identification and treatment of acute myocardial infarction greatly reduces mortality. Unfortunately, many patients delay seeking medical care and miss the benefits afforded by recent advances in treatment. Studies have shown that the median time from onset of symptoms to seeking care ranges from 2 to 61/2 hours, while optimal benefit is derived during the first hour from symptom onset. The phenomenon of delay by AMI patients and those around them needs to be understood prior to the design of education and counseling strategies to reduce delay. In this article the literature is reviewed and variables that increase patient delay are identified. A theoretical model based on the health belief model, a self regulation model of illness cognition, and interactionist role theory is proposed to explain the response of an individual to the signs and symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Finally, recommendations are made for future research.