The most common symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) are chest pain (angina) and breathlessness.
But some people may not have any symptoms before they're diagnosed.
However, a severe angina attack can cause a painful feeling of heaviness or tightness, usually in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.
Angina is often triggered by physical activity or stressful situations. Symptoms usually pass in less than 10 minutes, and can be relieved by resting or using a nitrate tablet or spray.
Read more about treating angina.
If your arteries become completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
Heart attacks can permanently damage the heart muscle and, if not treated straight away, can be fatal.
Dial 999 for immediate medical assistance if you think you're having a heart attack.
Although symptoms can vary, the discomfort or pain of a heart attack is usually similar to that of angina. However, it's often more severe and may happen when you're resting.
During a heart attack, you may also have the following symptoms:
- pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms, jaw, neck, back or stomach
The symptoms of a heart attack can also be similar to indigestion. For example, they may include a feeling of heaviness in your chest, a stomach ache or heartburn.
A heart attack can happen at any time, including while you're resting. If heart pains last longer than 15 minutes, it may be the start of a heart attack.
Unlike angina, the symptoms of a heart attack are not usually relieved using a nitrate tablet or spray.
A heart attack can sometimes happen without any symptoms. This is known as a silent myocardial infarction and is more common in older people and people with diabetes.
Heart failure can also happen in people with CHD. The heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body, which can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, making it increasingly difficult to breathe.
Heart failure can happen suddenly (acute heart failure) or gradually, over time (chronic heart failure).
What to do if someone has a heart attack
When someone has a heart attack, a bystander – often a relative with no medical expertise – is usually the first on the scene.
However, less than 1% of the population have attended an emergency life support course.
The following organisations can teach you how to help someone having a heart attack:
- British Heart Foundation: could you save a life?
- British Red Cross: first aid courses
- St John Ambulance: find first aid courses near you
Page last reviewed: 1 August 2019
Next review due: 1 August 2019