CRP level: A risk factor for heart disease?

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CRP level: A risk factor for heart disease?

Question

I read that to prevent heart attacks more people should be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) if they have high C-reactive protein levels. Should more people be taking statins, and what's C-reactive protein?

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Answer

It's too soon to say whether more people should take statins. These cholesterol-lowering drugs are a safe and effective treatment for lowering cholesterol. But as with any drug, you shouldn't take them unless there's a good reason to. While statins are safe, they can cause side effects such as muscle pain in some people.

There's been an ongoing debate in the medical community about whether more people should take statins. One recent study known as the Jupiter study, released in November 2008, found that taking a statin known as rosuvastatin (Crestor) lowered the risk of death, heart attacks and other problems in some people with high C-reactive protein levels.

What was unique about this study was that no one in the study had traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. But everyone in the study did have high levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP. CRP indicates that something in your body is inflamed. Damaged or inflamed blood vessels are associated with high levels of CRP. The theory is that these high levels of CRP might be an early warning sign of heart disease — a sign that shows up before your cholesterol rises.

Despite these promising results, it's not clear yet whether everyone with high CRP levels should start taking statins or who should be tested for increased CRP levels. Researchers and health organizations will examine the Jupiter results and may issue new prevention guidelines. Until then, the old advice still applies: Eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise, keep your cholesterol levels low, and talk to your doctor about whether statin medications are right for you.

Last Updated: 2008-11-11
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