The importance of C-reactive protein (CRP)

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The term C-reactive protein, or CRP, has been voiced by many over the last few years there has been much debate in medical circles.

C-reactive protien is the result of a chronic imfalmmatory state within the body that can lead to significant damage to the arteries.

Suggestions have been made, based on clinical studies, that C-reactive protein may be more important for assessing risk of cardiovascular disease than high LDL “bad” cholesterol.

A series of landmark studies by Paul Ridker, M.D. and colleagues indicates that 25 to 35 million Americans have total cholesterol within normal range but above-average levels of inflammation within their cardiovascular systems, and that this inflammation has significant impact on heart disease risk.

The Women’s Health Study, which involved 39,876 healthy postmenopausal women, supports the C-reactive protien link to cardiovascular disease.Those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein had five times the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and seven times the risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to subjects with the lowest levels. C-reactive protein levels predicted risk of these events even in women who appeared to have no other pertinent risk factors.

In the words of the physicians that carried out the Woman’s Health Study “These data suggest that the C-reactive protein level is a stronger predictor of cardiovascular events than the LDL cholesterol level.”

So what is C-reactive protein?

Levels of C-reactive protein are obtained through a normal blood test that measures the concentration of a protein in serum that indicates acute inflammation. The test is carried out the same way as a standard blood test, usually drawing blood from a vein from the fold of your arm or back of a hand.

As mentioned above, several studies have suggested that C-reactive protien (CRP) may also be elevated in heart attacks. It is not known whether it is merely an indicator or marker of disease or whether it actually plays a role in causing atherosclerotic disease. Many consider elevated CRP to be a positive risk factor for coronary artery disease and as such should not be ignored.

C-Reactive Protein according to the American Heart Association:

A growing number of studies have examined whether hs-CRP can predict recurrent cardiovascular disease and stroke and death in different settings. High levels of hs-CRP consistently predict new coronary events in patients with unstable angina and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). Higher hs-CRP levels also are associated with lower survival rate of these people. Many studies suggested that after adjusting for other prognostic factors, hs-CRP was still useful as a risk predictor.

Recent studies also suggest that higher levels of hs-CRP may increase the risk that an artery will reclose after it’s been opened by balloon angioplasty. High levels of hs-CRP in the blood seem to predict prognosis and recurrent events in patients with stroke and peripheral arterial disease.

What is the normal range of hs-CRP level?

  • If hs-CRP level is lower than 1.0 mg/L, a person has a low risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • If hs-CRP is between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L, a person has an average risk.
  • If hs-CRP is higher than 3.0 mg/L, a person is at high risk.
  • If, after repeated testing, patients have persistently unexplained, markedly elevated hs-CRP (greater than 10.0 mg/L), other evaluation should be considered to exclude noncardiovascular causes.
  • So, in summary, C-reactive protein, or CRP, is a protein secreted by the liver in response to inflammation, and over the past several years it has become apparent to experts that inflammation is a big part of heart disease. CRP seems to play a role in damaging artery walls, making them more prone to the buildup of fatty plaques that can rupture and block the vessels that feed the heart. So, while the research shows that more healthy people have heart attacks due to high levels of CRP, high levels of LDL cholesterol are also a major risk.

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