Coronary heart disease affects many people. It’s a chronic condition, that means it is long term. Coronary heart disease happens when fatty material builds up in your arteries. This makes them narrower. The fatty material is called ‘plaque’. Plaque builds up slowly, and this process is called atherosclerosis. It can start when you are young and be well advanced by middle age.

Stable plaque is generally not harmful but if the arteries narrow too much it can cause angina.   Unstable plaque has more fat, a thin cap and is inflamed. It does not have to be associated with severe narrowing of the artery. Unstable plaque can develop a crack on the surface, exposing the contents of the plaque to the blood. Blood cells try to seal the gap in the surface with a blood clot. The blood clot partially or completely blocks the artery.  If your arteries become too narrow, less blood can reach your heart muscle. This may lead to symptoms such as angina.

If a blood clot forms in a narrow artery and blocks the blood supply to part of your heart, it can cause a heart attack. While atherosclerosis (a hardening and narrowing of the arteries) develops slowly over decades, the major consequences can appear to be sudden.

Some people may not know they have coronary heart disease until they have a heart attack.

What can I do?

The best way look after your heart is with a healthy lifestyle.

Some of our top tips are:

  • Be smoke-free
  • Manage your blood cholesterol
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Manage diabetes
  • Be physically active
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Enjoy a variety of nutritious foods
  • Eat less salt
  • Limit alcohol
  • Look after your mental health


National Heart Foundation of Australia. (2020). Keep Your Heart Healthy.