Having coronary heart disease can increase your risk of having a heart attack. Your coronary arteries play a vital role in keeping your heart healthy and pumping properly. But in some people the coronary arteries can become narrowed because fatty deposits called atheroma have built up within the artery walls. This process is call atherosclerosis and it is what causes coronary heart disease.
The artery may become so narrow that it doesn’t allow enough blood through to your heart muscle. When you are being physically active, you may feel discomfort or pain in the chest. This pain is angina. The amount of pain or discomfort you feel does not always reflect how badly your coronary arteries are affected.
Having coronary heart disease can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a coronary artery becomes blocked by a blood clot. This usually happens because the atheroma in the artery wall has become unstable. A piece may break off (rupture) and a blood clot may form around it. The clot can block the artery completely, starving the heart muscle of blood and oxygen, and causing irreversible damage to some of the heart muscle.
It can be very difficult to tell if your pain or symptoms are due to a heart attack or angina, as the symptoms can be similar. If you have angina, your symptoms usually ease or go away after a few minutes of rest, or after taking a medicine such as GTN. If you are having a heart attack, your symptoms are less likely to ease or go away after resting or taking medicine.
If you have not already been diagnosed with angina or coronary heart disease and you get chest pain, you should call an ambulance and seek immediate medical assistance.