7 Things to Know About C-reactive Protein and Your Heart

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What is C-reactive protein?

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance produced by the liver that increases in the presence of inflammation in the body. An elevated CRP level is identified with blood tests and is considered a non-specific "marker" for disease.


What are the symptoms of elevated C-reactive protein?

Elevated CRP levels don't have any noticeable symptoms.


What can cause an elevated C-reactive protein level?

Inflammation from CRP can be a result of genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, poor diet, and environmental toxins, like cigarette smoke.


How can you check your C-reactive protein levels?

CRP levels can be measured via a blood test. When evaluating cardiac risk, physicians look at a very narrow range of CRP levels, from zero to 3.0 and above. This requires a special test called high sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP), which may be able to reveal inflammation at the micro-vascular level. If this test shows that CRP is less than 1.0 mg per liter of blood, the risk of heart disease is considered low; if it is between 1.0 and 3.0, the risk is average; if it is above 3.0, the risk is deemed high.


When would a doctor test for elevated C-reactive protein?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends CRP testing when doctors aren't sure how to treat patients with an intermediate risk of heart disease, such as a 10-20 percent risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years However, AHA guidelines do not recommend CRP testing for individuals at either high risk of low risk.


What if I already have an inflammatory disease, like RA?

People who have arthritic conditions tend to have high CRP levels because inflammation underlies these disorders. Arthritis may push test results far beyond the range used to assess heart disease risk. When inflammation levels are being assessed in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or other autoimmune conditions, the hs-CRP test is not used. Instead, inflammation is evaluated with a test that measures levels in excess of 10 mg/L.


How do you treat elevated C-reactive protein levels?

Conventional physicians may prescribe the same (statin) drugs used to lower LDL cholesterol to also lower levels of C-reactive protein. In addition, they will typically recommend exercise and weight loss where appropriate, since both can help lower CRP. Alternative therapies include fish oil supplements, or anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger or tumeric.