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C-Reactive Protein

Overview :

C-reactive protein was discovered in 1930, but few people outside the medical community had heard of it until stories about it began hitting the mainstream media in early 2005. In 2005, two studies published in the January 6, 2005, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine provide the best evidence to date that the C-reactive protein level in a person's blood is an important and highly accurate predictor of future heart disease. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a sign of inflammation in the walls of arteries. The studies show that reducing the inflammation by lowering CRP levels with a class of drugs known as statins significantly lowers the rate of heart attacks and coronary-artery disease in people with acute heart disease. In fact, the studies indicated CRP levels may be as important—if not more important—in predicting and preventing heart disease as cholesterol levels are.

Persons with moderate or high levels of CRP can often reduce the levels with lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, engaging in regular exercise, taking in healthy nutrition, taking a multivitamin daily, replacing saturated fats such as butter with monounsaturated fats (particularly olive oil), increasing intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, losing weight if overweight, and increasing fiber intake. Drugs called statins (usually used to reduce high levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol, can also reduce CRP levels. These drugs include: lovastatin (Mevacor), simvastatin (Zocor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and the two drugs used in the 2005 CRP studies, pravastatin (Pravacol) and atorvastatin (Lipitor). Other drugs that lower CRP levels include the anti-cholesterol drug ezetimibe (Zetia) and the diabetes medication rosiglitazone (Avandia).

Not all physicians are convinced the two studies published in 2005 are accurate, noting that both studies were funded by pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Bristol-Meyer Squibb) that make statin drugs used to reduce CRP levels. Also, the lead authors of the studies have "strong financial ties to the cardiac drug industry," according to an article in the February 2005 issue of HealthFacts. The article also states that study participants already had severe heart disease and in one study, 36% of the participants smoked. It added that the CRP test is still unproven in predicting future acute heart problems in people with mild heart disease or healthy people at risk for developing heart disease.

The C-reactive protein test costs $45 to $85, is performed in physicians' offices, labs, and hospitals. Medicare usually covers the cost as do most other insurance plans.

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