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Coronary heart disease symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

For just one muscle, your heart is an amazing organ. A vital engine that keeps blood pumping to all parts of your body through your arteries. If these become narrowed or blocked up, your heart can run into trouble. This can cause different conditions and problems, but the umbrella term is coronary heart disease (CHD).

Symptoms of a heart attack
Dr Asif Qasim talks about the symptoms of a heart attack


  • The difference between CHD and coronary artery disease The difference between CHD and coronary artery disease

    Just to clear up any confusion before we go into more detail, you may have heard of coronary artery disease (CAD). And you may wonder, is this the same as CHD? Although many people refer to them as the same thing, CHD is actually a result of CAD.

    CAD is when your arteries narrow or become blocked because fat and cholesterol in your blood build up in your artery walls. This is called a plaque. The plaque that builds up is also called atheroma and causes a condition called atherosclerosis.

    CAD often begins in childhood. But the good news is, it can be delayed with the right lifestyle choices. But if this build-up of plaque progresses, it can lead to angina or even a heart attack – this is then known as coronary heart disease (CHD).

    To see how it all happens, have a look at our animation below.

    Play video
    How coronary heart disease (atherosclerosis) develops

    To help you spot the signs, we’ve highlighted the symptoms of two of the main conditions caused by CHD: angina and heart attack. Don’t ignore them – some symptoms may be a sign that CHD is developing, or it could be much more serious and need immediate medical help.

  • What are the symptoms? What are the symptoms?


    Angina usually happens because the blood flow in your arteries is restricted, and most often occurs when you exercise, although there may be other triggers. Signs of angina include:

    • discomfort or a tightening across the middle of your chest
    • pain that spreads to your neck, jaw, back, arms and even your stomach
    • pain that lasts for more than a few seconds but usually less than an hour – most episodes last between one and five minutes
    • breathlessness, tiredness and feeling sick

    You may also get symptoms if you’re feeling upset, after eating a meal or in cold weather. If you have any of the above symptoms, contact your GP for advice about what to do. He or she may advise you to make an appointment or, if it sounds more serious, tell you to call for immediate medical help.

    Heart attack

    If a plaque in your heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around it. This clot can then block the blood flow to your heart and cause a heart attack. Symptoms can vary. It may be very obvious that something is wrong, or may just feel like very bad indigestion. You might have:

    • a feeling of heaviness, squeezing or crushing in the centre of your chest
    • pain that may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, face, back or stomach

    You may also:

    • feel dizzy
    • become breathless
    • start to sweat
    • feel sick or vomit

    A heart attack is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention or ask someone to phone an ambulance without delay.

  • Complications of CHD Complications of CHD


    You may feel like your heart is beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This is known as an arrhythmia. There are different types which can be caused by many things besides CHD. It’s best to get checked out with your GP to find out what’s causing it and if you need treatment.

    Heart failure

    Without treatment, CHD may weaken your heart and lead to heart failure. This means that your heart isn’t strong enough to pump blood around your body effectively, causing you to become tired and out of breath easily. You may also have swollen ankles. CHD is the most common cause of heart failure.

  • Worried about your heart health?

    Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with a Bupa health assessment. Find out more today.

  • Stop symptoms in their tracks Stop symptoms in their tracks

    Getting help for any of these symptoms is vital for your heart health – now and in the future. You may need to begin treatment or make some lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to make some positive changes for your heart. And we can help. Our heart risk assessment is designed to help you understand your risk of heart disease and identify ways to prevent it.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Coronary artery disease – coronary heart disease. American Heart Association., published August 2013
    • Coronary artery disease. Oxford handbook of cardiology (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published May 2012
    • Angina. British Heart Foundation., accessed 18 February 2014
    • Angina. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published May 2012
    • Myocardial infarction. Medscape., published 21 January 2014
    • Overview of arrhythmias. The Merck Manuals., published July 2012
    • Heart failure - chronic. Definition. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published November 2010
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    Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information team, February 2014.

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