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Researchers Question Value of CRP Test

High levels of protein tend to occur only with other cardiovascular risk factors, study says

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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MONDAY, Oct. 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- New research challenges the widespread use of the C-reactive protein (CRP) test for assessing heart disease risk.

The University of Maryland Medical School study of more than 15,000 adults concluded that CRP appears to be closely linked to traditional heart disease risk factors, and is not an independent risk factor.

The findings appear in the Oct. 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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

This study 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 study said.

"We believe that high C-reactive protein is truly related to the company it keeps," principal investigator Dr. Michael Miller, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.

"The CRP test gained popularity in the late 1990s when it was believed that only 50 percent 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 percent of heart attacks can be accounted for by traditional risk factors, as well as poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and mental stress," Miller said.

"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 said.

Rather than using CRP screening to test for heart disease, Miller suggested 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 a major public health concern in the U.S. Otherwise, we run the risk of erasing the great advances that have contributed to the reduction in cardiovascular disease during the past 40 years."

More information

The American Medical Association has more about heart disease risk factors.

SOURCE: University of Maryland Medical Center, news release, Oct. 10. 2005

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