Everything you need to know about living well with coronary heart disease
You may be wondering, what is heart disease? Below, we explore what causes heart disease, what the symptoms of heart disease are, and what treatments for heart disease are available. Remember, you are not alone, and there are many sources of support available to you and your family.
Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice given to you by a medical professional. If you are concerned that you may have any of the coronary heart disease symptoms discussed below, please see your GP.
Coronary heart disease is the build-up of fat in arteries, which may reduce or block blood flow to and from the heart. It used to be called ischaemic heart disease.
Over 7 million people in the UK have a diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Both men and women are equally likely to have heart disease but men are more likely to develop it at an earlier age compared to women. It is one of the UK’s biggest causes of preventable, premature death.
There are ways to prevent heart disease, such as eating healthily, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise. People can live well with heart disease but a heart disease diagnosis can also lead to serious illness or limit your daily activities. Heart disease causes heart attacks and stroke, but there are surgical and drug treatments for heart disease and lots of heart disease support available to help reduce your risk of developing these conditions.
For more information on heart disease, visit the NHS website.
Most people have some level of atherosclerosis but it is most often caused by:
• High cholesterol – which occurs when you eat too much saturated fat
• Not exercising enough – this reduces the body’s ability to break down fats and cholesterol
• High blood pressure – damages artery walls, which allows fat to build up more easily
• Smoking – as with high blood pressure, this causes damage to the artery walls due to chemicals being inhaled
The British Heart Foundation explores what causes atherosclerosis.
Visit the Chest, Heart & Stroke website to understand further about how your heart works.
Everyone will experience coronary heart disease differently. Many people will be unaware that they are developing heart disease until it becomes significant enough to present symptoms. However, these symptoms can also present themselves in a variety of other healthcare conditions, or could be due to anxiety, medication side effects, etc. It is important that if you notice any of the symptoms listed here, you see your GP. If you, or someone else, think you are having a heart attack, you should dial 999 and ask for an ambulance immediately.
People with coronary heart disease will experience it in different ways, with different symptoms. Not everybody will get all of the symptoms below.
However, these are common symptoms to look out for:
• Heart palpitations
• Angina – chest pain or tightness, sometimes also felt in the throat
• Heart attack – this is a medical emergency, caused by sudden loss of blood to the heart, and may feel like chest pain or pain that spreads to other areas of the body (e.g. the jaw, back, etc). The British Heart Foundation provides information about heart attacks
• Heart failure – this may happen gradually over time as the heart becomes weak and unable to pump blood as effectively
If you are concerned you or someone nearby may be having a heart attack, dial 999.
To find out how to administer first aid in the event of a heart attack, visit the British Red Cross website.
If you are concerned about any of the heart disease symptoms in this article, you should visit your GP, who will assess you and may refer you for tests if they think you are at risk of heart disease.
People aged over 40 are eligible for a free NHS health check, which assesses your risk of getting heart disease and other conditions.
If you are considered to be at risk of coronary heart disease, you will have different tests to find out if you do have it, such as an X-ray, MRI scan or CT scan.
For more information on coronary heart disease diagnosis, visit the NHS website.
Coronary heart disease cannot be cured, but treatments can help reduce the risks associated with it. There are surgical and drug heart disease treatments available, that can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body and remove the build-up of fat in arteries. You are likely to be advised to undertake lifestyle changes as well, which include changes to your diet and an increase in exercise.
• Antiplatelets – reduces the risk of blood clots
• Statins – lowers cholesterol
• Beta blockers – helps slow a rapid heartbeat and enhances flow of blood
• Nitrates – widens and relaxes your arteries
• ACE inhibitors – improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure
• Angiotensin II receptor antagonists – lowers blood pressure
• Channel blockers – lowers blood pressure
• Diuretics – for people who retain water
Your heart doctor will discuss the best course of treatment for you. It may take time to find the right drugs to help you. Some people find that medication does not work for them, and that they need to have surgery.
For details about different drugs, what they do and their side effects, download the British Heart Foundation leaflet Medicines for my Heart.
• Angioplasty – widens arteries with the implantation of a stent
• Heart bypass (or artery bypass graft) – takes an artery from part of the body and grafts it on to the coronary artery where there is currently a blockage, to bypass the blockage and bring new blood supply
• Heart transplant – replaces a severely diseased and dysfunctional heart with a healthier heart from a donor
You may wish to learn more about what is involved in these surgeries. Visit the NHS website for more information, or download the British Heart Foundation leaflet ‘Heart surgery changed my life’.
It is possible to live well with coronary heart disease. Read on to find out more about aspects of daily living and how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Learning that you have heart disease can be difficult and you may need some time to adjust to your heart disease diagnosis. It's likely you'll need to make some lifestyle changes, which may feel challenging at first. Heart disease can affect lots of aspects of your life, including driving, working, holidays, finances and so on. For lots of advice and information about living with heart disease, visit the British Heart Foundation website.
How well you are able to live with heart disease will depend upon the severity of your symptoms and how effective treatment is for you. Everybody living with coronary heart disease will have a different experience. If you are willing and able to change your lifestyle by quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, your symptoms may be manageable and you are likely to have a good quality of life. Many people with heart disease find that treatment gives them a new lease of life and alleviates their heart disease symptoms, reducing their risk of having a heart attack.
It may help to read stories from other people living with heart disease and conditions affecting the heart, to see how they cope with challenges that their condition presents.
Some people report that the following activities become more difficult due to their heart disease symptoms:
• Getting around the home
• Getting around outside
• Doing chores around the home
• Using the bathroom
If heart disease is causing you to have difficulty doing everyday tasks, you may be eligible for an assessment by an Occupational Therapist (OT), who may be able to recommend ways to adapt tasks, sometimes using equipment, to make them easier.
At Healthcare Pro, we are experts in this type of equipment, called ‘daily living aids’, which are designed to help older people or people with health conditions to live independently. Below, we list some daily living aids that may help if you have heart disease symptoms that make some daily tasks challenging.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
If you receive a diagnosis of coronary heart disease and you are smoker, you will be strongly advised to quit smoking. Stopping smoking at any age, no matter how long you have been smoking, will help prevent any further damage to your body, may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, and will increase your life expectancy.
If you are a smoker, you may wish to read the British Heart Foundation’s Stop Smoking booklet for tips and advice. You may also find support from your GP surgery or local pharmacy.
Eating healthily can help prevent you developing heart disease. Providing the body with good nutrition reduces the risk of developing atherosclerosis and helps the body function as effectively as it should.
If you receive a heart disease diagnosis, eating healthily can help reduce the risk of your condition worsening, and reduce the impact of your symptoms.
There is no strict ‘heart disease diet’ but you should aim to reduce levels of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. Visit Heart UK’s website for information on cholesterol and other aspects of healthy eating for heart disease.
Some people take vitamins and minerals as supplements for heart disease, but there is little evidence to suggest these have an effect. You should always check with your GP or cardiologist before embarking on a programme of heart disease supplements.
Exercise is really important to prevent heart disease in the first place, but if you have already been diagnosed with it, you will probably be advised to increase your exercise levels in order to prevent further damage to your arteries and heart. Losing weight through healthy eating and exercise may also be advised, to avoid any additional strain on your heart. The NHS provides a weight loss guide with weekly planners to help you improve your diet and activity levels.
Most people need to build up to do 30 minutes of exercise each day that gets the heart pumping. If you have severe symptoms or have had a heart attack, you may need support and advice about how to start an exercise regime, and you are likely to be referred to a physiotherapist for this. You may also benefit from a cardiac rehabilitation programme, designed for people with heart disease or other heart conditions. This consists of a range of heart disease exercises to improve your fitness at a reasonable pace. Find out more about cardiac rehabilitation options.
The NHS provides more advice about how to get fit for free.
Many people with heart disease are in employment. Some are unable to work due to their symptoms. Some people continue to work, but need to change jobs because their working environment has a negative effect on their condition or symptoms, for example, if you are exposed to carbon monoxide or chemicals. For more information about work and heart disease, visit the British Heart Foundation website.
Stress can have a large impact on your heart health, and so if you find work stressful, it may be advisable to explore options for managing stress. British Heart Foundation provides information about wellbeing at work as well as a ‘coping with stress’ booklet.
We hope the heart disease information provided here has been helpful. Heart disease is extremely common in the UK, and as such, many people are in a similar situation to you, although their experience of the condition will be unique. Heart disease can be treated effectively so that you are able to live well.
There is a lot of heart disease help available to you. Some people find it helps to talk to others who are affected by heart disease, and we list some online heart disease support groups below. We also include links to other online resources with information and advice. If you are concerned about anything you have read in this guide, please discuss with your GP.
British Heart Foundation – the UK’s leading charity supporting people with heart conditions, providing information on living with heart disease, a helpline, online forum and local support networks
Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland – a Scottish charity providing information on health conditions such as heart disease, with an advice line
Heart UK – a charity providing support, information and education to families with raised cholesterol, including a helpline, factsheets and grants
NHS – source of official medical information about causes, symptoms and treatments for heart disease and related conditions
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce, and if you’re not an expert on the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of coronary heart disease as straightforward as possible.
Tubes in the body that carry blood
A potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged with fatty substances called plaques, or atheroma
A measurement of how effectively and fast the blood is being pumped around the body by the heart
A doctor specialising in the heart
Found in the body’s cells, this waxy substance can build up in the body, for instance in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease
A blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart
A medical procedure that uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of parts of your body and the structures inside your body, including the brain
A test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body
Less healthy form of fat found in some foods