The structure of emotions during acute myocardial infarction: A model of coping

Angelo A. Alonzo, Nancy R. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present state of medical care for heart attacks, or acute myocardial infarction (AMI), clearly indicates that rapidly and expeditiously seeking definitive medical care will reduce morbidity and prevent mortality. Despite the clearly established advantages of rapid AMI treatment, the time from the onset of acute symptoms of AMI to definitive medical care is often prolonged and individuals with a prior history of AMI and/or coronary artery disease (CAD) extend care-seeking. Behaviors and actions surrounding acute care-seeking are often fraught with complex social, psychological and emotional processes. The purpose of the present paper is to bring together a theoretical and an applied understanding of the interval of time from acute symptom onset to definitive medical care during AMI; and to understand the role of emotions in the care-seeking process. This task is especially important among individuals with a prior history of AMI and/or CHD. These individuals can be seen as experiencing a 'spectrum of posttraumatic disturbances', ranging from anxiety to posttraumatic stress disorder and alexithymia. These disturbances contribute to extended care-seeking thereby placing the individuals at greater risk for AMI and sudden cardiac death. Effective intervention requires three elements. First, knowledge is necessary so that individual and lay others can correctly label symptoms and signs of an AMI. Second, it is necessary to provide feasible behaviors that individuals and lay others can use to access definitive medical care. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is necessary to provide understanding of and skills to cope with the emotionl arousal surrounding both the primary traumatic experience of symptoms and signs, potential secondary traumatic consequences of AMI care-seeking and tertiary trauma from the long-term consequences of CHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1099-1110
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute myocardial infarction
  • Care-seeking
  • Coping
  • Thrombolytic therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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