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Coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis

Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as ‘ischemic heart disease’, is the most common form of heart disease. There are two major clinical forms - heart attack (often known as ‘acute myocardial infarction’ or AMI) and angina.

Coronary heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries.

Over time, the walls of your arteries can become clogged up with fatty deposits. This process is known as ‘atherosclerosis’ and the fatty deposits are called ‘atheroma’.

Atherosclerosis can be caused by lifestyle habits and other conditions such as:

If your doctor thinks you are at risk of CHD, they may carry out a risk assessment. This involves asking about your medical and family history, asking about your lifestyle and requesting a blood test.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners also recommends that if you are concerned about cardiovascular disease but have no symptoms, talk to your doctor or specialist about whether the benefits will outweigh the risks involved with specific testing for heart disease or stroke. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australia recommends that if you are over 75 years of age, you need to talk to your doctor or specialist about the risks and benefits of testing and treating your cholesterol. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (What are cardiovascular diseases?), NHS Choices, UK (Coronary heart disease), Choosing Wisely Australia (Choosing Wisely recommendations)

Last reviewed: August 2015

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