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Heart Health and CRP Test

Written by Paul Wolf

A test for predicting heart attacks may be the most effective yet. But you won't get it if you don't ask for it.

heart health for men

You're 43, you have an enviable 180 cholesterol, 120/75 blood pressure and no recollection of a heart attack in your family.

Questions for your doctor regarding CRP:
Can I get a cholesterol screening with complete lipid profiles in addition to the CRP?
Are there other tests that would be valuable, such as a blood test measuring homocysteine (an amino acid associated with heart-attack risk)?
If my c-reactive protein level is high, how can I lower it?
Sounds like you're on solid ground. But are you?

The problem is this: Nearly half of all heart-attack victims have normal cholesterol profiles. What's more, family history is not a foolproof method for predicting heart disease.

But there's a test for measuring heart-disease risk that looks at neither cholesterol nor family history. It's called the c-reactive protein blood test or CRP. And while it's as simple, fast and priced close to that of a cholesterol test, new evidence suggests it may also be a better way to predict a heart attack.

Cholesterol tests assess total cholesterol: HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)-too high would indicate a risk. But not all who are at risk exhibit high cholesterol.

The CRP blood test measures milligrams per liter of something called c-reactive protein. Too much of this protein in the bloodstream indicates inflammation of the arteries - a precursor to a heart attack.

While the test is now being standardized, any reading of 2.0 milligrams or higher is considered an obvious red flag, according to Mahtab Jafari, a doctor of pharmacology at the University of California's Irvine College of Medicine.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the CRP to be more effective than the cholesterol test in predicting heart attacks. But as it is possible to be at risk for a heart attack and have normal or low levels of c-reactive protein in the blood, the study further noted that the best predictor of a heart attack was a combination of cholesterol and CRP readings.

Despite the positive press, if you want the CRP, you have to ask for it. The c-reactive test has yet to become routine medical practice for a number of reasons.

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