What causes coronary heart disease?

heart illustration Your heart is a pump the size of a fist that sends blood around the body

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is arguably the the UK's biggest killer. CHD develops when the blood supply to the muscles and tissues of the heart becomes obstructed by the build-up of fatty materials inside the walls of the coronary arteries.

What is coronary heart disease?

Your heart is a pump the size of a fist that sends oxygen-rich blood around your body. The blood travels to the organs of your body through blood vessels known as arteries, and returns to the heart through veins.

Your heart needs its own blood supply to keep working. Heart disease occurs when the arteries that carry this blood, known as coronary arteries, start to become blocked by a build-up of fatty deposits.

How common is CHD?

  • CHD causes round 74,000 deaths each year. That's an average of 200 people every day
  • In the UK, there are an estimated 2.3 million people living with the condition
  • About one in six men and one in nine women die from the disease
  • Death rates are highest in Scotland and northern England
  • In the past couple of decades, deaths from CHD have nearly halved due to better treatments

Source: British Heart Foundation

The inner lining of the coronary arteries gradually becomes furred with a thick, porridge-like sludge of substances, known as plaques, and formed from cholesterol. This clogging-up process is known as atherosclerosis.

The plaques narrow the arte