Recent research is challenging the widespread use of the C-reactive protein(CRP) test for assessing heart disease risk.

Study Findings

The University of Maryland Medical School study of more than 15,000 adults found that elevated blood levels of CRP are closely connected with traditional heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Elevated CRP levels rarely occur in the absence of these traditional risk factors, the researchers say

"We believe that high C-reactive protein is truly related to the company it keeps," says principal investigator Dr. Michael Miller director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and is not an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

CRP is released by the liver in response to inflammation that is triggered by injury, infection or health conditions such as arthritis. Inflammation has been associated with the start and progression of cardiovascular disease.

The 'Greatest Myth'

"The CRP test gained popularity in the late 1990s when it was believed that only 50% of heart attacks could be explained by traditional risk factors. However, this turned out to be one of the greatest myths in cardiovascular medicine, as recent studies have affirmed that more than 90% of heart attacks can be accounted for by traditional risk factors, as well as poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and mental stress," Miller says.

"If you exercise, don't smoke, have normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose and are not overweight, the likelihood of having a high CRP is only one in 2,000," Miller says.

Rather than using CRP screening to test for heart disease, Miller suggests that health experts "work more intensively to reduce the known culprits, such as obesity and diabetes, which are growing to epidemic proportions and have become major public health concerns in the US."

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