Coronary heart disease is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. This happens when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, which can eventually lead to a heart attack if the arteries become blocked. More than 60% of the global burden of coronary heart disease occurs in developed countries.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease are often very noticeable, and can manifest as chest pain, heart failure or a heart attack. It is extremely important to know the warning signs, as these often signal serious or life-threatening situations.
This section contains more detailed information about coronary heart disease, and the diagnostic tools used to detect the disease. Treatment for coronary heart disease usually involves lifestyle changes and, if necessary, drugs and certain medical procedures. Learn about the various treatment options by reading on.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and managing stress, is the best way to keep your arteries strong and to prevent coronary heart disease. For tips on how to fight against this disease, see Prevention.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease are often very noticeable, but sometimes you can have the disease and not have any symptoms. This is especially true in the early stages of heart disease. Generally, the signs and symptoms are:
Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or changes from its usual pattern might be a sign of a heart attack. If you are experiencing inexplicable chest pain, seek immediate medical attention. All chest pain should be checked by a doctor, so that a proper diagnosis can be made and the condition can be appropriately treated.
Coronary heart disease is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries are the major blood vessels that supply the heart with the oxygen-rich blood and nutrients it needs to function.
Any of the coronary arteries can be narrowed by a buildup of fatty plaque, which occurs over many years. By narrowing your coronary arteries, these deposits restrict blood flow to the heart. Eventually, the decreased blood flow may cause chest pain (known as angina), while a complete blockage can lead to a heart attack.
In addition, coronary heart disease can lead to heart failure, which is a chronic condition in which a weakened heart causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid accumulation. It may also bring about abnormal heart rhythms or cardiac arrest.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute , coronary heart disease starts when certain factors damage the inner layers of the coronary arteries. The damage may be caused by various factors, including:
Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, plaques begin to build up at the site of the injury. If the surface of these plaques breaks open, blood cells called platelets will clump at the site to try to repair the artery by forming blood clots. This clump can block the artery, leading to a heart attack.
Typically, a doctor will first ask questions about your medical and family history, conduct a physical exam and order routine blood tests. He or she may also order any of these diagnostic tests:
Treatment for coronary heart disease usually involves lifestyle changes and, if necessary, drugs and certain medical procedures.
Just as it helps to treat coronary heart disease, adopting a healthy lifestyle can also prevent the disease by keeping your arteries strong and clear of plaques. To improve your heart health: