Coronary heart disease

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Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in the UK. It has been the subject of extensive research so that we now know more about what causes it and what can be done to prevent and treat it.

Some groups of the UK population are at much higher risk of having heart disease. So here we look at who these groups are, other factors that increase your risk of heart disease and what you can do to reduce your risk.

We also look briefly at its diagnosis, treatment and long term management and where you can go for more specialist support and information. 

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease develops due to a build up of fatty substances in the walls of the coronary arteries - the arteries that supply the heart with blood. Over time, this build up makes your arteries narrower and restricts the amount of oxygen-rich blood getting through to your heart.

Angina is the most common symptom of coronary heart disease.

This term describes a collection of symptoms, the most common one being chest pain, that you may experience when your heart is working harder than normal – such as when you climb stairs or exercise or are feeling stressed.

The pain usually comes on gradually and in most cases, lasts only a few minutes and improves if you rest. You may also feel pain in your back, shoulder, arm, throat or jaw. This is not a life-threatening condition but is a warning sign that you are at increased risk of a heart attack. If you experience these symptoms, you should make an immediate appointment to see your GP.

The above symptoms describe stable angina. Unstable angina is a more serious form.  The pain can occur when you’re sitting down or in bed and doesn’t tend to follow a pattern. The pain can be more intense and last for much longer. If you experience this kind of pain, you should call 999 for advice as it may indicate you are likely to have a heart attack.

A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot forms and blocks one of the narrowed coronary arteries. This starves your heart of oxygen and, if the blood supply to the heart is stopped for long enough causes permanent damage to the heart muscle. You can find out about symptoms that could suggest a heart attack on later pages. You don’t need to have a history of angina to have a heart attack.

We are grateful for the generous support of Sir Naim Dangoor CBE
and the Exilarch Foundation

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