In the UK, 7.4 million people are living with a heart disease or circulatory disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common of these conditions. We've talked briefly about coronary heart disease in our guide to the 20 most common medical conditions affecting older people. Today, however, we'll be taking a detailed look at this medical condition, discussing the symptoms and causes of coronary heart disease, as well as the main treatments available.
What is Coronary Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease - or CHD - is caused by a process called atherosclerosis. This term refers to the build-up of a fatty substance called atheroma on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries supply your heart with oxygenated blood. If too much atheroma builds up in the arteries, they can become dangerously narrow. This will prevent your heart from receiving the oxygen-rich blood it needs.
Sometimes, a piece of the built-up fatty substance can break off of the artery wall. This can cause a blood clot to form. Blood clots are incredibly dangerous because they can cut off the supply of blood to your heart. This is otherwise known as a heart attack.
Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease
The symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) develop gradually and vary from person to person. Some people may not even realise that they have CHD before they have a heart attack.
One of the main symptoms of CHD is angina. This is chest pain triggered by physical exertion or stress. Pain from angina can also be accompanied by breathlessness or feeling sick, but it usually dissipates in a few minutes if you rest. That said, you should make an urgent appointment with your GP if you experience an attack of chest pain.
Without proper medical attention, angina and coronary heart disease can lead to heart failure or heart attacks. Lots of people do not know the difference between heart failure and a heart attack. In short:
- Heart Failure – a weakening of the heart that prevents it from effectively pumping blood around the body. It can occur gradually or suddenly. Heart failure is usually not curable, but proper treatment can help you manage it for many years.
- Heart Attack – this is when a blockage in a blood vessel cuts off the blood supply, starving the heart of oxygen. The symptoms of a heart attack are similar to those of angina (chest pains, nausea, breathlessness) but much more severe. Heart attacks are very serious and can be life-threatening. If you suspect you may be having a heart attack, you should call 999 immediately.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in around 170,000 deaths each year in the UK.
Causes of Coronary Heart Disease
A variety of lifestyle factors can cause coronary heart disease. Behaviours like smoking and regular excessive drinking can increase your risk of developing the condition.
Other contributing factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
On the other hand, there are some factors which are out of our control. For example, men are more likely than women to suffer from coronary heart disease. If you have a family history of CHD, you are more likely to develop it yourself. Your chances of developing CHD also increase with age: you are more likely to experience symptoms of heart disease over the age of 50.
Heart disease is the single biggest cause of death worldwide. According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases cause more than 160,000 deaths each year in the UK - this accounts for more than a quarter of all UK deaths.
Treatment for Coronary Heart Disease
Though there is no cure for CHD, medical treatment can minimise the risk of more severe symptoms like heart attacks. Treatment can also relieve the pain or discomfort of minor symptoms.
The easiest way to alleviate CHD symptoms is to make simple lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity, giving up smoking, and eating more healthily.
Furthermore, there is a wide range of medications for CHD.
- Blood thinners can prevent the formation of blood clots, therefore reducing your risk of a heart attack.
- Statins work by reducing your cholesterol. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your chances of a heart attack.
- Beta blockers are often used to treat high blood pressure. They can help to prevent angina by slowing your heartbeat and improving blood flow.
For more information on CHD medications, see the NHS website.
In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery to treat coronary heart disease. There are several procedures available.
Angioplasty involves inserting a stent (a mesh tube) into the artery to hold it open. It can be a routine procedure to treat angina or an emergency operation for someone who needs urgent care after a heart attack, for example.
On the other hand, some artery blockages may require a bypass. This is where a doctor will take a blood vessel from another part of the body and attach it to the coronary artery on either side of the blockage. This allows the blood to flow effectively, bypassing the blockage.
In the most serious cases, a heart transplant may be necessary. This is when the diseased heart is removed and replaced with a healthy donor organ.
How Lifeline24 Can Help
If you are worried about your health, it might be worth considering one of our life-saving personal alarms. If you ever feel unwell or are concerned about your safety, you simply need to press the button on the My Amie pendant. This will connect you to our 24/7 Emergency Response Team, who will assess the situation and arrange assistance for you straight away. To find out more about our personal alarm service, you can read our helpful guide.
If you are unsteady on your feet, or worried that you will be unable to press the button, consider purchasing a fall detector alarm for additional peace of mind.
If you have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, you will be eligible for VAT exemption on your personal alarm system from Lifeline24. The vast majority of our customers qualify for VAT exemption due to a disability or long-term medical condition such as heart disease, hypertension, asthma, or arthritis.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 28th February 2022 to reflect current information.