Dr. Paul Ridker

Dr. Paul Ridker, Director, BWH Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

Your doctor probably gives you a lot of numbers after your check up. Ever wonder which ones you really need to know? When it comes to your cardiovascular health, C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of your most important numbers.

Measured by a blood test known as a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) test, CRP is an indicator of chronic low-level inflammation in the body, which could indicate increased risk for heart attack and stroke. A landmark study by Dr. Paul M. Ridker, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), demonstrated that people with elevated CRP levels and normal LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) are at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, his study, known as the JUPITER trial, showed that the use of statins (cholesterol-reducing medications) among people with elevated CRP levels and normal LDL cholesterol reduced their risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events by nearly 50 percent.

Dr. Ridker says that, unfortunately, half of all heart attacks and stroke in the United States occur among apparently healthy men and women with normal or low levels of cholesterol. Women and certain minority groups are more likely to have elevated CRP levels. In addition to medication, exercise and dietary changes can reduce your CRP level. Controlling cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as quitting smoking, also reduce your overall risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, how can you quickly evaluate your risk of heart attack and stroke? In addition to talking with your doctor, you may also check your Reynolds Risk Score. In collaboration with BWH biostatistician Nancy R. Cook, ScD, Dr. Ridker developed the Reynolds Risk Score, which combines CRP and genetic risks with traditional risk factors, in order to more accurately predict the risk of heart attack and stroke for both men and women.

– Jessica F.

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