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Inflammation (swelling) of the arteries is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. To see if your arteries are inflamed as a result of atherosclerosis, doctors can test your blood for C-reactive protein (CRP). The body produces CRP during the general process of inflammation. Therefore, CRP is a "marker" for inflammation, meaning its presence indicates an increased state of inflammation in the body.
CRP and Cardiovascular Disease Risk
In studies involving large numbers of patients, CRP levels seem to be correlated with levels of cardiovascular risk. In fact, CRP seems to predict cardiovascular risk at least as well as cholesterol levels do. Data from the Physicians Health Study, a clinical trial involving 18,000 apparently healthy physicians, found that elevated levels of CRP were associated with a threefold increase in the risk of heart attack. In the Harvard Women's Health Study, results of the CRP test were more accurate than cholesterol levels in predicting coronary problems. Twelve different markers of inflammation were studied in healthy, postmenopausal women. After three years, CRP was the strongest predictor of risk. Women in the group with the highest CRP levels were more than four times as likely to have died from coronary disease, or to have suffered a nonfatal heart attack or stroke. This group was also more likely to have required a cardiac procedure such as angioplasty (a procedure that opens clogged arteries with the use of a flexible tube) or bypass surgery than women in the group with the lowest levels.
How Is CRP Measured?
CRP is measured with a simple blood test, which can be done at the same time your cholesterol is checked. One such test is the highly-sensitivity C-reactive protein (HS-CRP, also called ultra-sensitive CRP or US-CRP) test.
Risk is determined based on your test results.
| CRP || Risk for Cardiovascular Disease |
Less than 1.0 mg/L
Greater than 3.0 mg/L
It's important to note that inflammation due to other conditions, such as an infection, illness, or a serious flare-up of arthritis, can raise CRP levels. Before getting the CRP test, tell your doctor what other medical conditions you have.