Invisible women? The importance of gender in lay beliefs about heart problems



Coronary heart disease (CHD) accounts for over a quarter of deaths in Britain, yet few qualitative studies have explored beliefs about ‘heart problems’ in the general population. A previous study of lay beliefs about coronary candidacy (or ‘the kind of person who gets heart trouble’) paid little attention to gender. However, semi-structured interviews with 61 men and women reveal that gender plays a vital role in lay perceptions. Respondents’ accounts of people who were likely ‘candidates’ for heart problems all centred on men. More surprisingly, their accounts of unlikely candidates also focused exclusively on men. Only when specifically asked about relatives, did respondents discuss women with heart problems. While accounts of male ‘victims’ focused on sudden, fatal heart attacks, accounts of women usually concentrated on long-term CHD morbidity. We argue that CHD continues to be perceived as a male disease and that women remain ‘invisible’ in discourses about heart disease.