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All about C-reactive protein

» Rethinking CRP’s role

» Testing, testing

Two ways to test your CRP

There are two ways to measure CRP. The standard CRP test isn’t as sensitive to low levels of the protein and is used for people who are at risk for bacterial or viral infections, such as those that may pop up after surgery, or for people with chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The hs-CRP is a more sensitive test, making it more appropriate when testing healthy people, who may only have small amounts of CRP in their blood, for their heart-disease potential.

In recent years, C-reactive protein (CRP) has been an increasingly popular term among cardiologists, who think the protein could play a pretty big part in the development of heart disease. But what is it, and should you get yours measured?

CRP, which is produced by the liver, is an inflammation “marker,” or an indication that inflammation is occurring somewhere in the body. Inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, which may narrow the arteries and eventually block blood flow. Studies have shown that the more CRP that’s in your blood, the greater your chance of having a heart attack.

Rethinking CRP’s role

While CRP is certainly linked to heart disease, what researchers didn’t know was whether CRP was merely a sign of heart disease or a cause of the condition. Previous studies had suggested that CRP played a role in the development of heart problems, but a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that CRP was merely a bystander in the process and didn’t actually contribute to the development of the disease.

Not all doctors agree on the recent study, which looked at more than 100,000 people, but your doctor may still suggest that testing be done if you fall into an intermediate or high-risk category, as the test has been a strong predictor of cardiovascular events in the past.

Testing, testing

Blood tests called highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) assays can measure CRP levels in healthy people to help determine their heart disease risk. Your healthcare provider can help you decide whether you need the hs-CRP test. One may be warranted if your risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years is 10 percent to 20 percent—based on other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

If you’re found to have a high hs-CRP level, your provider may suggest an aggressive treatment plan. This usually includes major lifestyle changes, such as revamping your diet, losing excess weight, exercising on most or all days, quitting smoking, getting high blood pressure under control, reducing alcohol consumption and properly managing diabetes. He or she may also suggest anti-clotting medications, such as a daily dose of aspirin or clopidogrel.

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