There are many different heart conditions and problems. Together, we call them heart disease. They include angina, heart attack, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms – as well as many other conditions including congenital heart disease and inherited heart conditions.
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 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 increases my risk of CHD?
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease. There are several risk factors for CHD. The main ones are:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- 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.
How you deal with stress, the amount of alcohol you drink, and the type of job you do may also increase your risk of developing 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.
What can I do if I’m worried about developing CHD?
You can have a free NHS health check to assess your risk of CHD 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.
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 to protect your heart by living a healthy lifestyle.
I’m a woman, am I at risk?
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, just been diagnosed, or decided you want to make your heart health a priority, you can find everything you need in the British Heart Foundation’s Women’s room.
- Find out more about free NHS health checks at the NHS Choices website
- Order the Risking it DVDs from the BHF.
- Join the BHF’s Heart Matters service or the online community
- Find out more about heart attack and angina.
- Find out more about the support you can get through our Heart support groups by watching our Heart support group video.
Supporting the BHF means your money helps the charity fund hundreds of top scientists all over the UK, working on more than a thousand different research projects. They’re all fighting to help heart patients: finding new, better treatments for people with heart and circulatory disease, and developing new ways to better prevent or diagnose it.