How it can go wrong

Disease of the heart and therefore circulation is known as Cardiovascular Disease and is the most common cause of death in the UK. It includes coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack and stroke.

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease is caused by a gradual build up of fatty deposits on the walls of your coronary arteries. This causes the arteries to thicken and narrow, reducing the amount of blood that can get through to supply your heart. The medical term for this condition is atherosclerosis and the fatty material is known as atheroma.

Over time, the artery may become so narrow that it cannot deliver enough oxygen to your heart, especially when you are exerting yourself. This can lead to angina – a pain or discomfort in your chest.
A heart attack occurs when a piece of the fatty atheroma breaks away from the artery wall and forms a blood clot. If this clot then blocks the heart artery, your heart muscle will be starved of blood and oxygen. When someone is suffering from a heart attack you must dial 999 as it is an emergency and it is vital that treatment to restore blood flow can take place as soon as possible.

The coronary arteries can become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. In  time, the artery may become so narrow that it cannot deliver enough oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle when its demands are high – such as during activity, exercise or increased stress levels. The pain or discomfort that happens as a result is called angina.

You are particularly likely to develop atherosclerosis if:

• you smoke any form of tobacco
• you have high blood pressure
• you have a high blood cholesterol level
• you take little physical activity, or
• you have diabetes.

Other things increasing your risk of developing atherosclerosis are being overweight or obese, and having a family history of relatives having a heart attack or angina before the age of 55 for a man or 65 for a woman.