What is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) affects around seven million people in the UK. Here's an overview of how the disease can occur and what you can do to help lower your risk of developing it. 

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cardiovascular disease worldwide and is estimated to affect over two million people in the UK alone1. It may also be referred to as coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease – these are different names for the same condition. Here's an overview of what coronary heart disease is and how diet and lifestyle can affect a person's risk of developing the disease.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. The one exception to this is the coronary artery, which delivers blood to the heart. Like all muscles, the heart needs a steady supply of fresh blood to give it the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function. Sometimes plaque (a build up of fatty deposits) can build up inside the coronary artery, making it significantly narrower – this means blood can't get to the heart muscles as quickly and in severe cases, blood might not be able to reach areas the heart at all. This build-up of plaque is called atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis – it is a major risk factor for developing coronary heart disease2.

Atherosclerosis can lead to chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath and if no blood reaches the heart muscles, a heart attack can occur2. If you experience these symptoms, it's important to contact your doctor or phone 111 as soon as possible. And if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, phone 999 immediately – it may save a life.

Some diseases, infections and disorders can raise a person's chances of developing coronary heart disease. Diabetics and smokers are at an increased risk, as their blood vessels are generally smaller. Having a relative with CHD can also raise your risk, especially if they are male and under 55 or female and under 65.

Things that affect how likely you are to develop a disease are known as risk factors. High cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and obesity are major risk factors for developing CHD. Other risk factors include your age, sex, smoking and family history.

The advice for lowering your risk of developing CHD is identical for all cardiovascular diseases. Common advice given includes making lifestyle changes such as exercising more frequently, not smoking and avoiding drinking to excess. Diet also affects a person's risk of developing CHD. Lowering your salt intake, consuming a healthy level of calories and following a healthy, varied diet may also lower the risk.

If you think you have CHD, or are worried about developing the disease, talk to your doctor or healthcare team. The advice given above is not a substitute for medical advice and you should always contact your doctor before changing your diet or lifestyle.


2 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atherosclerosis

3 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronary-heart-disease/causes