Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood and nutrients to the heart. These arteries may become narrowed or clogged from the accumulation of plaque, which is called “coronary heart disease” (CHD). Plaques are made up of fat, cholesterol, and other material, and occur when the vessel wall is damaged (e.g. by high blood pressure). This can lead to angina, heart attacks and other heart diseases, as the coronary arteries are no longer able to meet the demands of the heart muscle.   

If blood flow to a part of the heart is stopped, due to a blockage in one of these vessels, a heart attack can occur. This can be life threatening. Symptoms of CHD can vary between people, but commonly include chest discomfort, pain or discomfort in the arms, left shoulder, elbows, jaw or back. Other symptoms include, shortness of breath, feeling sick, vomiting, dizziness, or sweating. 

It is important that you see your doctor or call 000, if you think you could be having a heart attack.


Importance for PLHIV50+

The risk of CHD increases as people get older, with sex and genetics playing an important role. Ethnicity is also important – indigenous Australians are at higher risk of coronary heart disease than non-indigenous Australians.  People living with HIV (PLHIV) are approximately 50% more likely to develop CHD than those without HIV, and this increases as they grow older. This may stem from to chronic inflammation, lifestyle factors, and be directly related to HIV and some antiviral medications. PLHIV are at higher risk of many of the traditional risk factors for CHD too, like smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol.  

Modifiable risk factors for CHD, include: 

  • Obesity 
  • Diabetes 
  • Hypertension 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Unhealthy eating 
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Smoking 
  • Harmful use of alcohol 

Assessing your coronary heart disease risk with your healthcare provider is an important way of identifying your individual risk, and address important lifestyle factors to prevent and manage CHD. In addition to lifestyle modifications, treatment involves medications and may require a stent or surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.