Dear Dr. Mirkin,
Which blood test is a better predictor of heart attacks: CRP or cholesterol?
Both help to measure heart attack risk, but CRP (C-reactive protein) may be more important. CRP measures inflammation which indicates an overactive immunity, while cholesterol measures a type of fat in your blood. Having a high CRP blood test increases your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke by twice as much as having a high cholesterol (NEJM, November 2002). Everything that activates your immunity can increase risk for heart attacks and everything that damages your body turns on your immunity. Inflammation is part of the immune reaction that protects you from infection. It causes redness, pain and swelling, and can damage the inner lining of arteries or break off clots from arteries to block the flow of blood which can cause strokes and heart attacks.
If you have a high CRP, try to correct the known causes: any type of infection such as chronic gum disease, high blood pressure, alcohol use, smoking, low levels of physical activity, chronic fatigue, eating a high protein/high meat diet, or having elevated triglycerides, insulin resistance or diabetes. People with sleep disturbances, depression, or any of the "auto-immune" diseases such as rheumatiod arthritis or psoriasis are also likely to have a high CRP and are at increased risk for heart attacks.
A practicing physician for more than 40 years and a radio talk show host for 25, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is one of a very few doctors board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology.
Dr. Mirkin's latest book is The Healthy Heart Miracle, published by HarperCollins. His daily short features on fitness have been heard on CBS Radio News stations since the 1970's.
He has written 16 books including The Sportsmedicine Book, the best-selling book on the subject that has been translated into many languages. Dr. Mirkin did his residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and over the years he has served as a Teaching Fellow at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, and Associate Clinical Professor in Pediatrics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.
Read more at www.drmirkin.com.
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