Women have hearts too: Women's response to undiagnosed symptoms of heart disease

Gail O. Oswald (2001)

This was a qualitative grounded theory study of women's perception of and response to the symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD). Previous research has shown that women's symptoms of heart disease are often vague and that women and their doctors may not attribute symptoms to heart disease until the disease reaches more advanced and less treatable stages. Timely intervention requires a better understanding of women's early experiences of heart disease. Toward this end, three women who were recovering from CHD were interviewed about their perception of and response to symptoms prior to diagnosis. All three had experienced increasingly debilitating symptoms for two or more years prior to diagnosis. The women blamed themselves for failing to recognize and act upon their symptoms. However, despite their feelings of self-blame, the women also reported that they had described their symptoms to physicians and had followed through on all medical recommendations. Open and axial coding of the interview transcripts produced 16 descriptive categories that were divided into three clusters: (a) symptoms, (b) interpretations of symptoms, and (c) responses to symptoms. A selective analysis of the categories resulted in a theory of multiple storylines that describes the conflicting stories that women tell about their experience. In these multiple storylines, the women revealed themselves as active, purposeful seekers of treatment and, at the same time, passive, confused avoiders of treatment. The treatment implications of multiple storylines are discussed.