Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease, is a condition where the blood vessels supplying oxygen to your heart become narrow. The cause of the narrowing is a buildup of a waxy substance made inside the arteries, called plaque. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol and fatty deposits. The buildup of plaque—called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries—is a gradual process that occurs over many years.

Narrowing of coronary arteries can cause chest pain (angina). If a plaque breaks open, a blood clot may form over the plaque and completely block blood flow. This can cause a heart attack. CHD frequently leads to heart attacks and is the No. 1 cause of death for males and females in the United States. About 790,000 people have a heart attack each year in the United States, and about 114,000 attacks are fatal.

CHD can cause your heartbeat to become irregular, a condition known as arrhythmia. It can also cause a gradual weakening of your heart, called heart failure. Heart failure means your heart can’t pump enough blood to your body. Symptoms include swelling in your legs, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

Men develop CHD more often than women. Other factors that increase your risk for CHD include being older than 65 or having a family history of the disease. You can't control these risk factors, but there are others that you can control. You should:

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid excess salt in your diet
  • Maintain a normal blood sugar level (if you are diabetic)
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet—one that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat
  • Avoid trans fats
  • Exercise regularly
  • Strive to maintain a healthy weight