CRP (C-reactive protein) is a protein that your body makes when there is inflammation. It's also called a marker of inflammation or an inflammatory marker. Inflammation is your body's way of responding to an injury or infection. Smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar can also lead to inflammation.
Inflammation has an important role in the body because it helps the body heal wounds and fight infections. However, it is possible to have "too much of a good thing." Too much inflammation has been linked to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease (heart disease affecting the blood vessels that supply the heart).
Inflammation plays an important role in heart disease. Heart disease occurs when plaques (hard deposits made of cholesterol and other substances) build up on the blood vessel walls. The plaques can narrow the blood vessel walls, making it harder for blood to flow through. They can also rupture (break off), leading to blood clots that can block the vessels, which could cause a heart attack (if a blood vessel in the heart is blocked) or stroke (if a vessel in the brain is blocked). Inflammation encourages plaques to form and also makes them more likely to rupture.
CRP is often used as a short form for hsCRP, which stands for high-sensitivity C-reactive protein – hsCRP uses highly sensitive tests to measure CRP in the body. High hsCRP levels are linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease.
People who are otherwise healthy but have high CRP levels are more likely than those with low CRP levels to develop heart disease and its complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death, and peripheral arterial disease (hardening of the arteries in the legs, which causes leg cramps and poor circulation in the legs and feet). In fact, people with high CRP have 2 or 3 times the risk of developing heart disease compared to people with low CRP levels.
Almost 50% of all heart attacks and strokes affect people who seem healthy and have normal or low cholesterol levels. Some of these people may be identified through CRP testing so that they can reduce their heart disease risk before they have a heart attack or stroke.
Ask your doctor if you should have your cholesterol and/or CRP levels tested.
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