Coronary heart disease


Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a largely preventable disease. There are approximately 8,000 deaths in Scotland each year (7,541 people in 2012) where CHD is the underlying cause.

The heart

The heart is a muscle that is about the size of your fist. It pumps blood around your body and beats approximately 70 times a minute. After the blood leaves 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.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease, or CHD, 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. If your coronary arteries become narrow due to a build up of atheroma, the blood supply to your heart will block your arteries.

If a coronary artery becomes partially blocked, it can cause chest pains (angina). If it becomes completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).


Stable angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease, usually brought with increased exercise or emotional stress, when the heart muscle requires more oxygen to deal with this. It can be a mild, uncomfortable feeling that is similar to indigestion. However, a severe angina attack can cause a feeling of heaviness or tightness, usually in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Some people can also experience breathlessness. The symptoms usually pass within about 10-15 minutes and can be relieved by resting, or using a nitrate tablet or spray.

Angina affects about one in 50 people, and in the UK there are an estimated 1.2 million people with the condition. It affects men more than women, and your chances of getting it increase as you get older.

The British Heart Foundation have a wealth of resources, including information in different languages and formats. Their Heart Helpline phone number is 0300 330 3311.

Last updated: 14 May 2015

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