Predicting the Risk of Heart Attack
The standard indicators that measure our risk of a heart attack are well known: high blood pressure, obesity and elevated levels of 'bad' cholesterol. New research suggests that another marker -- the level of a blood protein commonly called CRP -- may be an even better indicator of potential heart trouble.
CRP, or C-reactive protein, is a blood protein produced in the liver that is thought to indicate the amount of inflammation present in the body. This inflammation can cause the plaque lining our artery walls to loosen and form a blood clot, which can potentially lead to a heart attack or stroke. CRP is measured by a simple blood test that has recently been developed to be accurate in identifying this condition in humans.
Bill Kraus, M.D., associate professor of cardiology and medicine at Duke University Medical Center, says CRP testing could someday become another helpful procedure in predicting future cardiac trouble.
"I believe that CRP is likely to be indicative of having a metabolic imbalance, whether it's diabetes or high cholesterol, that is reflective of a condition we call Metabolic Syndrome."
According to Kraus, one-quarter of the U.S. population could be diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome. He says the condition is "characterized by having excessive weight in the abdominal area, high blood pressure and a predisposition to diabetes."
However, he doesn't think there's a need for another test to determine whether an individual has the condition:
"I can assess whether an individual has Metabolic Syndrome with a simple tape measure in the clinic, a blood pressure test and a cholesterol measurement," Kraus says.
As for the benefit of CRP testing at this time, Kraus believes it's still uncertain. "The additive contribution of CRP to a classical risk profiling is still an open book," he says. "We don't know exactly how to incorporate this measure into our current risk profiling and how to treat elevated CRP levels. We don't know how it fits into the normal context of what we do as preventive cardiologists."
Until it is learned how to incorporate CRP results into standard risk profiling and how to treat elevated CRP, Kraus recommends that people continue to rely on standard measures and proven therapies.
"We should continue to encourage exercise, weight control and appropriate diet and, when appropriate, the use of medicines to lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar."