The heart is basically a big muscle which pumps blood around the body. Like all your muscles, the heart needs oxygen to work. This oxygen is brought to the heart by blood flowing through the coronary arteries.
The right and left coronary arteries branch off the aorta — the large main blood vessel which leaves the heart with fresh oxygen-rich blood.
If the coronary arteries become narrowed by fatty deposits in the lining of the arteries (atherosclerosis) then the flow of blood to the heart muscle may be restricted. If the heart muscle doesn't get enough blood it doesn't get enough oxygen to work properly — this is called ischaemia.
Ischaemia can cause chest pain or discomfort (angina), often described as a feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest. Angina pain may also be felt in the neck, shoulders or arms. Angina is often brought on by physical activity, and typically improves with rest.
Last Reviewed: 21/12/2012
1. Mayo Clinic. Chest pain. Last updated 1 Dec 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chest-pain/DS00016 (accessed Feb 2013).
2. Mayo Clinic. Coronary artery disease. Last updated 29 June 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coronary-artery-disease/DS00064 (accessed Feb 2013).
3. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What is angina? Updated June 2011. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/angina/ (accessed Feb 2013).
View a picture of the anatomy of the heart, which is made up of 4 compartments: 2 atria and 2 ventricles.
Angina can affect people in different ways and the symptoms may vary at different times. It usually lasts only a few minutes and can be relieved by rest and/or medicines.
Coronary artery bypass surgery
The aim of coronary artery bypass surgery is to bypass blocked coronary arteries and improve blood flow to the heart muscle. This can relieve angina and help prevent heart attacks.
Cholesterol and your arteries
These images show how high cholesterol can lead to build up of plaque in your arteries (atherosclerosis) and can cause your arteries to become blocked.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction) means the blood supply to part of the heart muscle has become blocked. Early treatment can reduce damage to the muscle.