Coronary heart disease

Introduction

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide.

It's responsible for around 74,000 deaths in the UK each year. About 1 in 5 men and 1 in 8 women die from CHD.

In the UK, there are an estimated 2.7m people living with the condition and 2m people affected by angina (the most common symptom of coronary heart disease). 

CHD generally affects more men than women, but from the age of 50 the chances of developing CHD are similar for men and women.

As well as angina (chest pain), the main symptoms of CHD are heart attacks and heart failure. However, not everyone has the same symptoms and some people may not have any before CHD is diagnosed.

CHD is sometimes called ischaemic heart disease.

Read more about the symptoms of coronary heart disease.

About the heart

The heart is a muscle about the size of your fist. It pumps blood around your body and beats approximately 70 times a minute. After the blood leaves the right side of the heart, it goes to your lungs, where it picks up oxygen.

The oxygen-rich blood returns to your heart and is then pumped to the organs of your body through a network of arteries. The blood returns to your heart through veins before being pumped back to your lungs again. This process is called circulation.

The heart gets its own supply of blood from a network of blood vessels on the surface of your heart, called coronary arteries.

Why does coronary heart disease happen?

Coronary heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries.

Over time, the walls of your arteries can become furred up with fatty deposits. This process is known as atherosclerosis and the fatty deposits are called atheroma.

Atherosclerosis can be caused by lifestyle habits and other conditions, such as:

Read more about the causes of coronary heart disease.

Diagnosing coronary heart disease

If your doctor feels you are at risk of CHD, they may carry out a risk assessment. This involves asking about your medical and family history, your lifestyle and taking a blood test.

Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis of CHD, including:

Read more about diagnosing coronary heart disease.

Treating coronary heart disease

Although coronary heart disease cannot be cured, treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the chances of problems such as heart attacks.

Treatment can include lifestyle changes, such as doing regular exercise and stopping smoking, as well as medication and surgery.

Read more about treating coronary heart disease.

Recovery

If you have problems such as a heart attack, or have any heart surgery, it is possible to eventually resume your normal life.

Advice and support is available to help you deal with aspects of your life that may have been affected by CHD.

Read more about recovering from the effects of coronary heart disease.

Prevention

By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of getting CHD. These include:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • being physically active
  • giving up smoking
  • controlling blood cholesterol and sugar levels

Keeping your heart healthy will also have other health benefits, and help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

Read more about preventing coronary heart disease.

Last updated: 30 July 2014

Continue to next section: Symptoms of coronary heart disease