Over time, fatty material called atheroma can build up inside the walls of your arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis. If this build up happens in the arteries that supply your heart with blood, it is called coronary heart disease. 

Eventually, your arteries may become so narrow because of this build up that they cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. The pain and discomfort you may feel as a result of this 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.

  • Find out more about how your heart works

Risk factors for coronary heart disease

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

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes  
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Ethnic background
  • Sex – men are more likely to develop CHD at an earlier age than women.
  • Age – the older you are, the more likely you are to develop CHD.

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.

How is coronary heart disease diagnosed?

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.

Coronary heart disease risk in women

Some people think that CHD 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.

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.

Resources and more information

  • Download or order our Risking it DVD, or Keep your heart healthy.
  • Join the Heart Matters service or our online community.
  • Find out more about heart attack, angina and atherosclerosis.
  • Find out more about the support you can get through our Heart support groups.

Help us beat heartbreak from coronary heart disease

Your donations help us fund hundreds of top scientists all over the UK, working on more than a thousand different research projects.

They’re researching cures and treatments for conditions like coronary heart disease. With your help, our research could save and improve the lives of people you love.

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