When people think about inflammation, the swelling of a twisted ankle or a bruised body part that usually comes to mind. While these examples certainly represent an inflammatory response, they do not encompass the complexity of this branch of immune defense. The steps of the acute inflammatory response are important in protecting the body from pathogens and initiating repair. When inflammation is chronic, it can cause a variety of health problems in our bodies.
What is the difference between chronic inflammation and a normal immune response?
Although the term “inflammation” has a negative connotation among the general population, it is important to remember that the inflammatory response is crucial to normal body function. When you get any kind of infection or your body experiences a trauma, it is inflammation that protects you from severe and permanent damage. Inflammation, as an acute response, promotes healing and regeneration.
On the other hand, prolonged systemic inflammation creates an added stress on our bodies that can lead to deterioration and disease. Chronic activation of the imflammatory process can cause such detrimental effects as atherosclerosis, the chronic inflammation of the coronary arteries. Inflammation can cause stiffening and reduced blood flow in these small vessels and eventually can lead to heart attack or stroke.
It is important not only to work to reduce chronic inflammation but to have a way to evaluate whether these chronic inflammatory responses are actually occurring in your body.
Tests for chronic inflammation and associated cardiac risk
Blood tests can be performed by your doctor to evaluate certain markers of inflammation such as the high sensitivity C-reactive protein test (hsCRP). Your hsCRP level can spike with an acute infection such as an immune response to a common cold. However, persistent moderately elevated levels of hsCRP (levels remaining between 0 to 10mg/mL for an extended period of time) are consistent with chronic inflammation and a raised cardiovascular risk. Research indicates that chronic presence of C-reactive protein increases risk of future cardiac events. Elevation of C-reactive protein levels in the blood can be indicative of coronary artery inflammation which is associated with heart attack and stroke. Your doctor’s interpretation of these tests is vital in understanding whether or not your elevated hsCRP levels point to increased risk of heart disease or if they are simply indicative of another immune response.
So I have increased levels of C-reactive protein, what can I do?
The most basic step to optimize your overall health and wellness is to adhere to a healthy lifestyle. Diet, exercise and supplementation with anti-inflammatories such as fish oil are a great place to start. Unfortunately, diet and lifestyle management are simply not enough for some people because of pre-existing vascular damage and/ or genetic factors predisposing them to cardiovascular disease.
Recent research conducted through the JUPITER clinical trials has shown that statin therapy, medications previously only prescribed to reduce cholesterol, reduced incidence of cardiovascular events for people with chronically elevated hsCRP but no other cardiac issues. The 2008 study showed that in patients with low levels of LDL—the bad cholesterol—but raised hs-CRP levels, statin use reduced the risk of heart-related death, heart attacks and other serious cardiac problems by 44% compared with those given placebos. With this discovery, people who otherwise had no other traditional indicators for cardiac risk were able to be identified and treated, lowering their incidence of suffering a heart attack or stroke!
As a patient of Enhanced Medical Care, your hsCRP levels are checked at every Comprehensive Physical. If you are concerned with your own cardiac risk or would like to learn more about becoming a member of Enhanced Medical Care, contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss test and treatment options with Dr. Costa.
To your health!