The Causes of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

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Article published on 12th May 2008

The most common cause of CHD is a build up of fatty tissue along the inside walls of the arteries, most relevantly the arteries leading to and from the heart (the coronary arteries). Medically this build up is called atherosclerosis.

During this very unpleasant process, raised patches (called ‘plaques’) of a fatty sludge (atheroma) made up of cholesterol, cell-by-products and other waste products from the blood, begin to form on the inside walls of the arteries, narrowing them. This constricts the amounts of oxygenated blood that can flow through to the heart and can also thicken the blood, leading to clots.

The plaques can also prevent the artery walls from absorbing vital nutrients, causing them to lose their elasticity throughout the entire cardiovascular system. This inevitably leads to high blood pressure, which in turn exacerbates the likelihood of developing Coronary Heart Disease.

A cardiac arrest, or heart attack, is when one of the coronary arteries become completely blocked. This is generally the result of the plaque fragmenting and causing a blockage that obstructs blood flow, creating to a blood clot. It is not clearly understood why plaques break open in the way they do but inflammation is suspected as playing a large part.

If nutrient and oxygen absorption become completely blocked then all the muscle tissue supplied by the effected artery will begin to die. This includes heart muscle tissue.

It is thought that there are some people who are genetically pre-disposed as being more likely to develop atherosclerosis, due to a family history of CHD. However, this does not negate the importance and benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise to allay and even prevent the disease.

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