Ischaemic Heart Disease

What is Ischaemic Heart Disease?

Ischaemia or ischemia heart disease is a condition in which the heart is starved of oxygen due to a reduced blood supply.

Most commonly, this is due to a build-up of plaque (fatty material plus cells) in the wall of one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart, known as the coronary arteries. As the plaque enlarges, it gradually obstructs the flow of blood, which deprives the heart of oxygen and nutrients.

The plaque can also rupture suddenly, that is it can tear away from the artery wall, which causes a clot to form very rapidly that completely obstruct the flow of blood. When that happens, the heart cells not getting any blood, stop functioning and die. This is a myocardial infarction (heart attack), which causes severe chest pain; an irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal; heart failure (an inability of the heart to pump sufficient blood to satisfy the body’s needs), or even death.

Is Ischaemic Heart Disease the same as Coronary Artery Disease?

No, it is not the same. Ischaemic Heart Disease can be a result of coronary artery disease but not in all cases. For example, a heart can become ischaemic if the demand for oxygen exceeds the supply that can be provided in the blood flowing through the coronary arteries.

One can have coronary artery disease without having ischaemic heart disease. For example, plaque may be present, which means the patient has coronary artery disease, but it is not large enough to limit blood flow sufficiently to cause the heart to become ischaemic.

What are the symptoms of ischaemic heart disease?

The most common symptoms of ischaemic heart disease include:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Palpitations

What is Silent Ischaemic Heart Disease?

Uncommonly, ischemic heart disease does not cause any symptoms even though the heart is starved for oxygen—this is known as silent ischemic heart disease.

How can ischemic heart disease be diagnosed and is this the same for silent ischemic heart disease?

In order to diagnose either ischemic heart disease or silent ischemic heart disease, a doctor will ask questions about your personal and family medical history, order blood tests and conduct a physical examination. Further testing may be required which can include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac catheterization or angiogram
  • Heart scan

Ask your doctor for a heart health check which looks at the key risk signs. Download our Heart Health Check Guide to take with you to your next doctor's appointment.


Research into Ischaemic Heart DiseaseLearn more about coronary artery diseaseDonate to heart researchHow to prevent heart diseaseLearn about other heart diseases

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation, on which we meet, work, and discover.
Our Western Australian laboratories pay their respect to the Whadjuk Noongar who remain as the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land.

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