There are a number of known risk factors for heart disease. Two major risk factors for heart disease are LDL-cholesterol and diabetes. Both of these risk factors require blood tests to determine the increased risk for heart disease. Inflammation is another risk factor that can be measured from a blood test and is starting to draw some attention.

Inflammation’s Role in Heart Disease

Inflammation plays a role in most major chronic disease and heart disease is no exception. Inflammation plays a major part in the progression of atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart disease. Inflammation leads to changes in the cells that line the arteries which can cause the plaque build up in the arteries of the heart to become unstable.  If plaque in the arteries rupture, it can cut off blood supply to the heart and cause a major heart attack.

Inflammation, Like a Fire, Can Burn Out of Control

Inflammation is a positive tool for the body’s natural healing process. It helps to break down old material so our bodies can build new material. When inflammation doesn’t resolve, or is created in excess, it can begin to cause problems. There are many speculations on what causes this inflammation in the arteries, such as oxidized LDL and infections, but more research is needed to fully understand these causes.

Measuring Inflammation and the Risk for Heart Disease

While we don’t know all the causes of inflammation in the arteries, we have learned much about the various biomarkers for inflammation and their effect on the risk for heart disease. The inflammation biomarker that has received the most attention is C-reactive protein (CRP). Research has shown that CRP is associated with cardiovascular disease, even when cholesterol isn’t elevated.  CRP is a readily available test and is now regularly included in most blood tests that assess heart disease risk. The results obtained from a CRP test have been shown to be reproducible and reliable.

A More Powerful Predictor of Heart Disease?

A CRP test may reveal a higher risk category for heart disease that a typical cholesterol test may miss.  Both cholesterol tests and CRP tests seem to be a more powerful predictor of heart disease when considered together. Ask your doctor about your CRP levels and how they may affect your risk for heart disease.