Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a major cause of death both in Northern Ireland and worldwide. CHD is sometimes called ischaemic heart disease. Dial 999 for immediate medical help if you think you're having a heart attack, (see heart attack symptoms).

Symptoms of CHD

The most common symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD) is chest pain (angina).

You can also experience other symptoms, such as heart palpitations and feeling short of breath. Some people may not have any symptoms before they are diagnosed.

Angina

If your coronary arteries become partly blocked, it can cause chest pain (angina).

This can be a mild, uncomfortable feeling similar to indigestion. A severe angina attack can cause a painful feeling of heaviness or tightness, usually in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

Angina is often triggered by physical activity or stressful situations. Symptoms usually pass in less than 5 minutes, and can be relieved by resting or using a nitrate tablet or spray.

If there is no improvement 5 minutes after taking your recommended treatment - call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Heart attacks

If your arteries become completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Heart attacks can permanently damage the heart muscle and, if not treated straight away, can be fatal.

Dial 999 for immediate medical help if you think you're having a heart attack.

Although symptoms can vary, the discomfort or pain of a heart attack is usually similar to that of angina. It's often more severe and may happen when you're resting.

During a heart attack, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • pain in other parts of the body - it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms, jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • breathlessness

The symptoms of a heart attack can also be similar to indigestion. For example, they may include a feeling of heaviness in your chest, a stomach ache or heartburn.

A heart attack can occur at any time, including while you're resting. If heart pains last longer than 15 minutes, it may be the start of a heart attack.

Unlike angina, the symptoms of a heart attack aren't usually relieved using a nitrate tablet or spray.

In some cases, a heart attack can occur without any symptoms. This is known as a silent myocardial infarction and is more common in older people and people with diabetes.

Heart failure

Heart failure can also occur in people with CHD when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body. This can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, making it increasingly hard to breathe.

Heart failure can occur suddenly (acute heart failure) or gradually over time (chronic heart failure).

Causes of coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease 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 is known as atherosclerosis and the fatty deposits are called atheroma.

Atherosclerosis can be caused by lifestyle and other conditions, such as:

Diagnosing coronary heart disease

If your doctor feels you're at risk of CHD, they may carry out a risk assessment. This involves asking about your medical and family history, your lifestyle and taking a blood test.

Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis of CHD, including:

Treating coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease can't be cured. But treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the chances of problems such as heart attacks.

Treatment can include:

Recovering from the effects of CHD

If you have a heart attack or have had angioplasty or heart surgery, it's possible to eventually resume a normal life.

Advice and support is available to help you deal with aspects of your life that may have been affected by CHD.

Preventing CHD

You can reduce your risk of getting CHD by making some simple lifestyle changes. These include:

Keeping your heart healthy will also have other health benefits, such as helping reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published December 2018

This page is due for review December 2019

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