Coronary heart disease, often abbreviated as CHD, is a type of heart disease which occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries of the heart responsible for supplying your heart with oxygen from your lungs. Plaque is a fatty, wax-like substance that can accumulate over time. This condition is called atherosclerosis, and it occurs over many years. Coronary heart disease may also be called atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart disease, or ischemic heart disease.
The harder the plaque, the more difficult it is for blood to carry oxygen to the heart. Plaque deposits may harden and crack open over time. When this happens, it’s possible for a blood clot to form on the surface of the rupture. Blood clots can block the flow of blood to your coronary arteries.
This can lead to pain or discomfort in the chest, also known as angina. Pain may also appear in other parts of the body, such as the neck, jaw, shoulders, and arms. Some angina patients even describe their pain as feeling like indigestion.
Atherosclerosis can also lead to heart attacks. When this happens, the blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked. When blood flow isn’t restored quickly enough, the muscle is starved of oxygen and begins to die. This can lead to serious complications and death.
Coronary heart disease can eventually weaken your heart, leading to heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia). For people who have already been diagnosed, lifestyle changes, medication, and medical and surgical procedures may be helpful in treating the disease and eliminating the likelihood of health complications.
Coronary heart disease is caused by a combination of factors that damage the inner layers of the arteries. These include:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar levels, often caused by diabetes
- Inflammation of the blood vessels
Coronary heart disease kills approximately 370,000 Americans every single year. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Various factors increase a person’s risk of getting it. These include lifestyle factors and habits, genetic traits, and environmental factors. The more risk factors apply to you, the greater your chances of getting CHD.
But some risk factors—such as your diet—are in your hands. You can potentially prevent or delay CHD by changing your lifestyle.
Risk factors include:
- High cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol can contribute to CHD.
- High blood pressure. Blood pressure is deemed high if it stays higher than 140/90 mmHg for long periods of time.
- Smoking. Smoking can do damage to blood vessels, and raise cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Physical inactivity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate other risk factors for CHD,
- Metabolic syndrome. This is a group of conditions and factors that can contribute to CHD.
- Being overweight or obese. If your body weight is above the range that is healthy for your height and sex, you may be at risk.
- Diabetes. Diabetes affects your blood sugar and hormone levels. Developing a resistance to these hormones can contribute to CHD.
- Unhealthy diet. A diet high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar can increase your risk.
- Old age. As you age, plaque builds up in your arteries. For men, the risk of CHD starts at age 45. For women, it begins at age 55.
- Your family history. Having first-degree relatives such as parents or siblings who have CHD increases your risk.