What is coronary heart disease?

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The most common cause of heart attacks

Coronary heart disease happens when your coronary arteries get narrower and reduce the blood flow to the heart. It is the usual underlying cause of a heart attack

Coronary heart disease is associated with age and is a lifelong condition that affects many people.

Coronary arteries are like small pipes that supply blood to your heart. They get narrower when fatty material gradually builds up inside and clogs them.

The fatty material is called plaque. The process of plaque building up is called atherosclerosis. This can start when you are young and may be well advanced by middle age.

Stable plaque is generally not harmful but if it narrows the arteries too much, they may sometimes not deliver enough blood to your heart. The first effects of this are pain and discomfort called angina. Angina needs to be treated. Read more about angina

Unstable plaque has more fat, a thin cap and is inflamed. It may not severely narrow the artery, but it can develop a crack on the surface, exposing the contents of the plaque to the blood. Blood cells try to seal the gap in the surface with a blood clot. The blood clot partially or completely blocks the artery.

 A heart attack occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the flow of blood and seriously reduces blood flow to the heart muscle. Read more about heart attack

If you have had a heart attack, you have coronary heart disease. 

There are risk factors that increase your chance of getting coronary heart disease. Know your risks

Coronary heart disease is sometimes referred to as CHD.


Many people don’t know they have heart disease until they have chest pain (angina or a heart attack).

If you are worried about your risk of heart disease, see your doctor or health practitioner to discuss your risks.


Your doctor will get some tests done to check your heart health. They may include: 

  • electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • coronary angiogram or coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA)
  • echocardiogram (heart ultrasound)
  • blood tests
  • myocardial perfusion study.

Read more about medical tests


There’s no cure for coronary heart disease. But there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help you avoid a heart attack. 

Lifestyle changes

You may need to make some changes to stop your heart disease getting worse. Read more about looking after yourself.

Ask your doctor or health practitioner for advice.


Your doctor will prescribe medicines to treat your coronary heart disease and the risk factors of a heart attack, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. 

It’s really important to take your medicines as prescribed, because they can greatly reduce your risk of a heart attack. You will probably need to take medicines for the long term. Read more about medicines 

Procedures and devices

If your coronary heart disease is causing serious heart problems your doctor may want you to have a procedure done, like angioplasty and stent implantation, or coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG). More about heart procedures and devices

Cardiac rehabilitation

If you’ve had a heart attack or a procedure, you should be given information about a cardiac rehabilitation program where you can get help with living with coronary heart disease to reduce the risk of more problems. Find out about about cardiac rehabilitation 

Recovering from a heart attack?

Learn more about heart attack recovery, including information on what happened to your heart, heart attack treatment and how you can recover sooner.