Illness Narratives of African Americans Living With Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Interactionist Analysis

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Abstract

How African American men and women respond to and manage living with coronary heart disease (CHD) is not well understood despite the well-documented disproportionate burden of CHD and its complications among African Americans in the United States. Through a critical interactionist perspective, we explore illness experiences of African Americans living with CHD and describe a broad range of micro-, meso-, and macro-contextual factors that influence their illness experiences. For participants in this study, CHD has become a “Black disease” wherein certain bodies have become historically and racially marked; a conceptualization maintained and passed on by African Americans themselves. Such findings highlight that CHD is more than a “lifestyle disease” where high-risk behaviors and lack of healthy choices are ultimate culprits. Rather, CHD is perceived by African Americans who have it as yet another product of ongoing racial and socio-structural dynamics through which their health burdens are created, sustained, and reproduced.

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