Researchers examined the hearts of people who had died suddenly to determine if they had stable or ruptured plaques in their blood vessels. They also determined C-reactive protein (CRP) levels from post-mortem blood samples and used a special staining technique to look at CRP levels in the plaque itself. Researchers found that people who had sudden cardiac death had higher levels of CRP in their blood and in their plaque than those who died from non-cardiac causes.
Our research provides the first indication that CRP is a risk factor for atherosclerotic vascular disease and sudden death, says lead investigator Renu Virmani, M.D., a researcher with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.
Scientists have known for some time that elevated CRP in the blood indicates damage to arterial walls. However, until now it has not been known that blood levels also correlate to levels within plaque and its vulnerability to rupture, says Virmani.
This is the first time it has been linked to sudden death from cardiovascular disease, she says. If circulating CRP levels are elevated, there are more vulnerable plaques. It is that simple. It is very important to identify vulnerable plaques in order to begin treatment.
C-reactive protein can increase 1,000-fold in the bloodstream in response to acute infection, trauma, burns, and other inflammatory conditions. It is also released into the bloodstream when blood vessels leading to the heart are constricted or damaged.
Virmani and her colleagues examined post-mortem blood samples and arteries from 302 autopsies of men and women lacking any inflammatory conditions other than atherosclerosis. These included
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association