Coronary heart disease

Blood flow through an artery

Coronary heart disease (CHD), previously called ischaemic heart disease, is when your coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood.

This condition, known as atherosclerosis, is caused by the build up of fatty material called atheroma inside the artery walls.

In time, your arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. The pain and discomfort you may feel as a result is called angina.

If a piece of atheroma breaks off it may cause a blood clot (blockage) to form. If it blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, your heart may become permanently damaged. This is known as a heart attack.

Risk factors for coronary heart disease

A risk factor is something that that increases your likelihood of getting a disease. There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing CHD. The main ones are:

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop CHD.  Even though you can’t change all your risk factors, there is plenty you can do to reduce your risk and help to protect your heart.

CHD diagnosis and risk assessment 

You can have a free NHS health check to assess your risk of coronary heart disease if:

  • You’re between 40 and 74 years old and live in England.
  • You’re between 40 and 64 and live in Scotland.
  • You live in Northern Ireland (where this is known as a cardiac risk factor assessment).

Free NHS health checks to assess your risk of CHD are not currently offered in Wales, but you can still discuss any concerns with your GP or another healthcare professional.

The health check usually takes place at your GP surgery.  Your healthcare professional will check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and talk to you about your lifestyle. Based on the results, they will give you practical advice about keeping your heart healthy.

I've got a heart problem already, is there any treatment?

Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you, depending on the type of heart problem that you have. These may vary from taking medication, to having surgery or a medical procedure.

Even if you already have a heart condition it’s still really important protect your heart by living a healthy lifestyle.

I'm a woman, am I at risk?

Some people think that coronary heart disease only affects men, but it affects women as well.

Whether you've lived with a heart condition all your life, have just been diagnosed, or decided you want to make your heart health a priority, you can find everything you need in our Women’s Room.

Resources and more information

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