Coronary heart disease 


Heart attack

A consultant cardiologist explains what a heart attack is, the symptoms, surgical treatments and why it's important for coronary heart disease patients to reduce their risk factors.

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Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK's biggest killer, causing around 82,000 deaths each year. About one in five men and one in eight women die from the disease.

In the UK, there are an estimated 2.7 million people living with the condition and 2 million people affected by angina (the most common symptom of coronary heart disease). CHD generally affects more men than women, but from the age of 50 the chances of developing CHD are similar for men and women.

As well as angina (chest pain), the main symptoms of CHD are heart attacks and heart failure. However, not everyone has the same symptoms and some people may not have any before CHD is diagnosed.

CHD is sometimes called ischaemic heart disease.

Read more about the symptoms of coronary heart disease.

About the heart

The heart is a muscle about the size of your fist. It pumps blood around your body and beats approximately 70 times a minute. After the blood leaves the right side of the heart, it goes to your lungs where it picks up oxygen.

The oxygen-rich blood returns to your heart and is then pumped to the organs of your body through a network of arteries. The blood returns to your heart through veins before being pumped back to your lungs again. This process is called circulation.

The heart gets its own supply of blood from a network of blood vessels on the surface of your heart, called coronary arteries.

Why does coronary heart disease happen?

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 process is known as atherosclerosis and the fatty deposits are called atheroma.

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

Read more about the causes of coronary heart disease.

Diagnosing coronary heart disease

If your doctor feels you are 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:

Read more about diagnosing coronary heart disease.

Treating coronary heart disease

Although coronary heart disease cannot be cured, treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the chances of problems such as heart attacks.

Treatment can include lifestyle changes, such as doing regular exercise and stopping smoking, as well as medication and surgery.

Read more about treating coronary heart disease.


If you have problems such as a heart attack, or have any heart surgery, it is possible to eventually resume your normal life.

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

Read more about recovering from the effects of coronary heart disease.


By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of getting CHD. These include:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • being physically active
  • giving up smoking
  • controlling blood cholesterol and sugar levels

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

Read more about preventing coronary heart disease.

Last reviewed: 10/09/2012

Next review due: 10/09/2014


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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User735220 said on 27 December 2012

I have low blood pressure and was thinking about having it checked out. I will go privately to save the NHS money. All the people that think private medical cover is unfair should think again. If I have to go NHS I would spend my money on other things and then the NHS would collapse from the number of people using the service and the waiting times would increase. The NHS need people like me to pay for our own care and leave them to spend their money on people would need them. Make the ones who can afford it, to pay for their own health care and let the NHS help the really sick and needy.

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User619489 said on 07 May 2012

I went to my local NHS a &E in themiddleofthe night with chest pain.I was admitted into a new CCU ward to be looked after.Unfortunately,they forgot to give me evening dose of blood thinning injection,I wake up with most severe cheat pain.The only person who would come to my aid was a Phillpinoi who dd not speak much english and the emergency bells did not work!I got out of my Bed and found a English Doctor 200 yards away who helped me andget me the necessary drugs and moved me to ICU!
The consultant placed a stent the next morning and gave me my customary CD!
Next week I took the CD to a private cardilogist who looked at it in a very disappointing manner and said do not travel and keep hold of my mobile number.I thought he was after private insurance monies!

AT 2:30 am I wake up with chest pain and phoned him,He arranged for me to be admitted in a private Hospital at 3:00 am as I knew how to manage myself being a doctor myself!
He preformed an angiogram the next morning and placed 5 stents.I asked him why they did not do this at NHS Hospitals?

Answer:Tick box culture. how many patients did he see is what matters to the pct etc
how many people die of this nonsense??

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foresatish said on 03 November 2011

I visit your web blog nearly daily and i love what are you doing with it. Various intresting posts on many hot topics and trends and also you possess creativity at writing. I always come across new things with your help and for that i thank you with all my heart. Continue this amazing work that you are doing. Bye!

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Archangelbladewyn said on 10 March 2011

Good evening 'Tamworth man' have a word with your GP and ask him about 'cardioversion' which is one way of resolving your problem. I have had this procedure 5 years ago which corrected my AF. This was done in my local hospital on the NHS.

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tamworth man said on 26 February 2011

Artrial Fibrillation
I have AF now for a couple of years I was wondering if there is a cure /treatment so that ,one comes off Warfine and surgary etc. does any one know of anything that can assist anywhere in te world.
Thank you

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georgebuss said on 21 December 2010

@misswelsh1 why have you had to wait so long.
Are you high priority of Low????
People in private care get soon to really quick, I do think it is unfair, because not all of us can afford to go private. I think private health care should be abolished and all the money they make go to the NHS to grow their facilities even more and build more hospitals and buy better equipment and employ more doctors and nurses as their is a shortage in Neonatal nurses at the moment in most NHS run hospitals!

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georgebuss said on 21 December 2010

I find this stuff really interesting.
I am really interested in medicine and nursing and if I became a doctor I would love to be specialized in Cardiac Care Medicine. Or if I became a nurse I would like to do a practioner course and specialize in cardiac care.

The heart is just amazing the way it is built, it's amazing to think something that small is supplying our whole body with oxygenated blood. How Amazing!!!!!

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DenisenPaul said on 23 August 2010

Well my post is a lot different then yours, i have a 7 weeks old daughter who has been born with 2 VSD (wholes in her heart)She is under cardiology and goes for her next heart scan on the 3rd September, to decide what there plans for our daughters future are.
I would like to thank the NHS for all there help BUT i stress and i mean the word stress, if it wasn't for my pressure on the midwifes to get a pediatrician to check my daughter we would off been sent home not knowing, an she could of had a cardiac arrest at anytime.... So i wish the NHS would stop building all these new blocks and give back the jobs to the staff they need more then the outlook of a building,
Surely the NHS would benefit by patients having earlier on help instead of it being to late.

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misswelsh1 said on 10 May 2010

hi im a 31 year old singe mum of 2 ... in july 2007 i had a shock of my like when i found out i needed open heart surgery 2 replace 3 valves !!!!! but its more of a shock that im still waiting nearly 3 years later . !! any1 else had to wait this long ???

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daisywright said on 19 January 2010

this is one of the impressive content I have ever read about heart disease.

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daisywright said on 19 January 2010

this one of the impressive information I have seen on heart disease.

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pricedot said on 29 September 2009

Hey People, I just returned from Hospital one week after i was admitted with a Cardiac Arrest , Now carry a few Stints upon my Person and thanks to the NHS staff who looked after me, i now Exercise, Stopped Smoking and eat more healthy than i ever did at Roadside Snackbars .

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imaging student said on 14 September 2009

German based research into MRI is demonstrating whole body angiographic studies in approx 20 minutes and less using high speed protocols (turboFLASH i think). whole body angiography has been proven to highlight disease vessels not detetected under conventional MRI, CT and digital subtration angiography.

is anyone out there aware of plans to bring this technology (or similar screening principles i.e. C-reactive protein based blood test) into the NHS/primary care?

it would make sense as atherosclerosis/CHD/Stroke are all interconnected!

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eden01 said on 08 September 2009

I am sorry that jay724 is having such a long wait to see a cardiologist, but I would take this as a positive sign. I am 31 years old, and I went to my doctor thinking i had severe indigestion - he gave me an immediate ECG, which came out 'abnormal'. That day he referred me to a fast access clinic, where I was seen the following week. Precautionary drugs were prescribed, and an angiogram booked for three days time. (Monday, appt - Thurs, angio.)
Now I am on combination drugs, and awaiting an angioplasty to fit several stents and open things back up, and hoping to get some quality of life back.
Givene the horror stories of young women being ignored or humoured, I never expected to be taken seriously when I first visited my doc. Now, several hospital visits, a trip to A and E, and a few ops later, I am inclined to think that if you are not rushed to a cardiologists, your chance of survival is better than mine was. Maybe it is not urgent, in which case, although it's scary, I would smile and be pleased your doctor does not think you are about to have a heart attack.

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jay724 said on 10 July 2009

If Coronary Heart disease is the 'UK's biggest killer' why does it take so long to get a first appointment to see a cardiologist?
Surely, on the basis that 'prevention is better than cure' it would be more efficient to quickly diagnose and treat cardiac problems thus reducing the number of heart attacks and the resultant strain on ambulance and A&E services!!
My current wait to see a cardiologist is my first contact with the NHS for 10 years and quite frankly I'm not impressed!!!

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doctor2010 said on 01 June 2009

This fails to mention that a complete occlusion of a coronary artery is not necessary to precipitate a "heart attack" and that chronic high-grade stenosis of a coronary artery, in the absence of complete occlusion of a thrombus (clot), is sufficient to cause myocardial ischaemia leading to myocardial infarction or sudden death.

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