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Coronary Heart Disease

What is Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

This condition is called atherosclerosis and the fatty material is called atheroma.

In time, your arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. The pain and discomfort you may feel as a result 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.  

What are the 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 can you keep your heart healthy?

Healthy eating – a healthy diet can prevent you from gaining weight; reducing your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, which increases your risk of developing CHD.

Staying active – physical activity can help you to control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health.

Stop smoking – quitting smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your heart health, and the good news is that the risk to your heart decreases significantly soon after you stop. You reduce your risk of stroke and a variety of cancers too. Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as someone who has never smoked. It is never too late to give up!

Alcohol – drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart health. It can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, cancer and liver problems. Both men and women should not drink any more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and should ensure that they have several alcohol free days.

Stress – is not a direct risk factor for CHD, but it is possible that it may contribute to your risk factor level. It depends on your coping mechanisms. Some people cope with stress with risky behaviour – alcohol, smoking and overeating; all of which increase your risk of developing CHD.

How can you find out about your risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease?

You can have a free NHS health check to assess your risk of CHD if you live in England and are aged between 40 and 74. It will normally take place at your GP surgery, where an appropriately trained health professional will check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and talk to you about your lifestyle. Based on your results, they will give you advice about keeping your heart healthy.

National advice and information

NHS Choices - Advice on looking after your heart.

British Heart Foundation - leading heart charity in the UK and funder of research in to heart and circulatory conditions.

Help and Support Manchester

Coronary Heart Disease- For more information on local services, visit Manchester City Council's Help and Support portal.

Research for the Future- to find out more or become more involved in research around CHD or any other long term condition visit Research for the Future.