The blood vessels (see our information on the heart) that supply the heart muscle with oxygen can become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty deposits (atheroma) within their walls. This is called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. When this happens, less blood and oxygen reach the heart muscle.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease (angina) include:
- chest discomfort or pain, and tightness
- pain that spreads to your shoulders, neck or arms
- shortness of breath, especially when you are exerting yourself.
Sometimes the fatty deposit can split. If it does, a blood clot can form inside the artery. This can block the flow of blood completely and stop parts of the heart muscle getting enough blood. This causes a heart attack and can result in permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person, but can include:
- severe, central chest pain
- mild chest discomfort, ache or heaviness
- feeling generally unwell
- pain that spreads to the arms, neck, jaw, stomach or back
- shortness of breath
- feeling dizzy and sick (nausea)
- being sick (vomiting).
Smoking and having high levels of cholesterol in your blood (see Risk factors and your heart) can increase your risk of coronary heart disease. The risk can also be increased by some cancer treatments.