Harvard Heart Letter

Spotlight on heart tests: C-reactive protein testing comes of age

Spotlight on heart tests

C-reactive protein testing comes of age

Measuring low-grade inflammation can help refine cardiovascular risk.

Blood pressure and tests for various types of cholesterol help spot hidden heart disease, but they also miss a substantial number of people who are on the road to having a heart attack or stroke. Evidence that inflammation is an integral part of atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging disease at the root of most heart attacks and strokes, is prompting the use of a new test to check for C-reactive protein (CRP). The liver makes this protein in response to infection, tissue injury, and inflammation.

The original CRP test has been used for years to monitor diseases such as pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. It isn't very sensitive, though, and can only detect CRP levels above 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L).

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