Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in the UK. Chest pain, the most common symptoms associated with this disease, accounts for 1% of all primary care consultations, 5% of visits to emergency departments, and up to 40% of emergency admissions to hospital. When people experience acute coronary symptoms such as chest pain, or other symptoms such as pain in the arms, back or shoulder pain and pain in the jaw and neck, we know that prompt diagnosis and treatment of heart disease can significantly reduce mortality. However, we also know that when people experience these symptoms they can wait sometime before seeking medical help. Part of the problem may be that people do not attribute their symptoms a serious problem such as heart disease. Whilst several campaigns have been aimed at the general population there is no information resource targeted at people who may be at risk of heart disease to help them understand and evaluate their symptoms and take prompt action.
The overall aim of this thesis is to fill this gap by producing a piloted draft information resource which aims to help people to respond effectively to symptoms that might be attributable to heart disease for people at high risk of heart disease. Using focus group discussions and individual interviews with people who had experienced symptoms that might be attributable to heart disease or might be at high risk of heart disease experiential data about their response to symptoms were gathered. Participants were also asked their views on what an information resource should be like and their experiences and views formed the basis of the content of the first draft of the information resource.
In making sense of their symptom the participants drew upon a range of past experiences and the experiences of others to help them; participants who experienced severe symptoms sought help quickly; those whose symptoms were mild or transient waited, in some cases a considerable time, before seeking help. Previous personal experience may be the factor that helped those who acted quickly. Whereas the experience of others, evident in many of the accounts of those who waited, may not be sufficient to help people interpret and make sense of their own symptom experiences.
The information resource incorporated the experiences of people with symptoms that ended up being attributable to heart disease and included examples of the range of symptoms that can be encountered to illustrate the different ways in which heart disease can be manifested as well as information drawn from best practice resources in the management of heart disease. Participants in the original focus group discussions and interviews were asked to be involved in the development of the resource and seventeen agreed. The information resource went through three drafts; at each stage changes were made to incorporate respondent views; at the penultimate draft health professionalsâ€™ views were also sought and used to inform the final draft which is now ready for further evaluation.