C-reactive protein (CRP) is a naturally occurring substance. It can be easy and inexpensive to measure it in the blood. Traditionally, doctors use the test to find high levels of inflammation. With certain infections and diseases caused by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the CRP level can be very high. The levels can be well over 100 mg/dL.
Over the last couple decades, scientists have discovered the importance of inflammation as one of the causes of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Inflammation also increases the risk of heart attack.
The degree of inflammation that is causing hardening of the arteries does not need to be very high. Persistent low grade inflammation is enough.
Scientists found that mild rises of CRP in otherwise healthy people were associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. To make CRP useful, a new test called hs-CRP was invented. The hs stands for highly sensitive.
This is what the numbers of an hs-CRP level mean:
- Below 1.0: low risk of heart disease
- Between 1.0 and 3.0: average risk of heart disease
- Over 3.0: risk of heart disease is higher than average
If your doctor has determined that your elevated CRP doesnt have a simple explanation and if it stays high it might warn of an higher risk for heart disease.
We dont know if CRP is just a marker of increased risk of heart disease and heart attack. Or if it plays a more direct role. For now, I tell my patients to think of it as a risk factor. Just like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are risk factors.
Since your cholesterol is not ideal and your CRP is high, it might make sense for you to take a statin drug. This would be even more important if you have other risk factors for heart disease.