Coronary heart disease (CHD) is responsible for over 73,000 deaths in the UK every year and around 2.3 million people are living with CHD in the UK.
It's an incredibly common condition, but would you know the causes and signs of heart disease and the symptoms of a heart attack? February is National Heart Month, so we've compiled everything you should know about one of the nation's biggest killers.
What is coronary heart disease?
CHD is when the arteries that supply your heart with oxygen-rich blood (the coronary arteries,) become narrowed by a gradual build up of fatty material within their walls.
Who does heart disease affect?
While we know that coronary heart disease affects one in six men, there's often the misconception that women aren't affected. But that couldn't be further from the truth – with one in 10 UK women being affected with CHD. So just because you're a lady, doesn't mean you shouldn't understand the causes and be able to spot the signs.
Common causes of heart disease
Coronary heart disease begins when the lining and inner layers of the coronary arteries are damaged. There are several conditions and lifestyle habits can increase your risk of developing this damage, these include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of physical activity
Risk factors you can't control include age, gender and family history of heart disease.
Most people have at least one risk factor and the risk of developing heart disease increases with the number of risk factors you have. But some factors put you at greater risk of heart disease than others - like smoking and diabetes.
Symptoms of heart disease
Angina (chest pain) is the most common symptom of coronary heart disease. This might feel like a squeezing or a heaviness in the chest, or even just a general discomfort, but it could also be felt in the shoulders, arms, jaw and throat. In fact, it's often mistaken for indigestion or heartburn.
Other symptoms include:
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
What could happen?
The build up of fat materials within the walls of the coronary arteries is a condition that has it's own name – atherosclerosis. The pieces of fatty material are called atheroma.
Over time your arteries might narrow so much that they can't deliver enough oxygen rich blood to your heart, which can result in pain and discomfort. This pain is called angina.
If a piece of the atheroma (the fatty material) breaks off, it could cause a blockage called a blood clot to form. If it blocks the artery completely and cuts off the blood supply to your heart muscle, it could permanently damage your heart. This is known as a heart attack.
Signs of a heart attack you should know
Knowing the signs of a heart attack could make all the difference in saving someone's life – here's what the NHS say to look out for and remember to dial 999 immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know is having a heart attack.
- Chest pain - pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest
- Pain in other parts of your body – usually the left arm is affected
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Coughing and wheezing
Is there a treatment?
Heart disease can't be cured, but it can be treated to help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of further problems. Usually, it's managed with a combination of medicine, lifestyle changes (like eating more healthily, exercising and stopping smoking) and sometimes even surgery.
Have you been affected by heart disease? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
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