C-Reactive Protein: Is it the Most Important Heart Health Indicatorl, and How do You Learn Yours?
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a special type of protein produced
by the liver. When your body experiences systemic inflammation,
levels of this protein go up. During inflammation, a natural
response, your body's white blood cells protect you from foreign
substances such as bacteria and viruses.
However, over time inflammation
can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues and is a leading
cause of many diseases, including atherosclerosis (fatty build-up
in the arteries' lining), heart disease, heart attack and
If you have several risk factors for heart disease,
such as being a smoker, overweight or inactive, the
American Heart Association says a CRP test can help
predict your heart attack or stroke risk.
Many researchers and doctors now believe that CRP may be
as important as -- or more important than -- cholesterol levels
in determining risk of heart disease.
CRP May be Best Predictor Yet
Research into the link between CRP and heart disease seems
to favor CRP over any other heart disease indicator. Highlights
The Physician's Health Study, which involved 18,000 healthy
physicians, found that those with elevated CRP levels
had three times the risk of heart attack than those with
People with CRP levels in the upper third had double
the risk of heart attack than those with levels in the
lower third, according to the American Heart Association.
The Harvard Women's Health Study found that a CRP test
was more accurate than cholesterol in predicting heart
problems. In fact, CRP was the strongest risk predictor
of 12 different markers of inflammation, after three years.
It was found that women with the highest CRP levels were
over four times as likely to have died from coronary disease
or had a non-fatal heart attack or stroke. They were also
more likely to have needed a heart procedure such as angioplasty
or bypass surgery than women with the lowest levels.
Other studies have found that people with higher CRP
levels who are undergoing angioplasty have an increased
risk that the artery will close after it is opened.
The C-Reactive Protein Blood Test: Should You Check Yours?
The American Heart Association says that if your risk of
heart disease is low, a CRP test isn't immediately warranted.
However, if you have several risk factors for heart disease,
the CRP test can help to predict a heart attack or stroke,
as well as help you determine whether further treatment is
Risk factors that may increase your risk of heart disease
Having had a heart attack or stroke in the past
A family history of heart disease
Elevated total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
HDL cholesterol level
Being overweight or obese
High blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes
Leading a sedentary lifestyle
Being male or a post-menopausal woman
If you fall into this category, a CRP blood test can be done.
Some insurance companies do cover it, and it can even be done
right along with a cholesterol test. Generally, the CRP test
results are as follows:
If your CRP level is high, eating healthy, exercising
and not smoking can help bring it to a normal level.
A CRP level under 1.0 milligrams per liter of blood means
you have a low risk for cardiovascular disease.
A level of 1.0 to 2.9 milligrams means your risk is intermediate.
A level of more than 3.0 milligrams means you are at
a high risk.
If Your CRP is Elevated ...
In the event that you take the test and find your levels
are intermediate or high, the steps to remedying it are the
same as those you would use to ward off heart disease. In
short, making healthy lifestyle changes is essential and include:
Quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol
Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
Maintaining a healthy weight
Controlling diabetes and/or high blood pressure
More CRP Information
If you'd like to know more about the CRP blood test, check
out these sites:
Top Foods to Help You Fight High Cholesterol
The "Secret" Leading Cause of Disease and What to
Do About It
American Heart Association: Inflammation, Heart Disease and
Stroke: The Role of Inflammation
Disease Risk and C-Reactive Protein
Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute
C-Reactive Protein Testing for Heart Disease