Ridker says many studies make it clear that measuring an inflammatory marker can improve the ability to predict cardiovascular risk in both apparently healthy individuals and those who have had a heart attack.
"Commercially available, high-sensitivity tests for CRP are now in development and are likely to be on the market by the end of the year," he says. "It's important to recognize that the standard test for CRP, which has been available for years, is just not sensitive enough to provide information for cardiovascular risk prediction."
No one knows the source of the inflammation, although "atherosclerosis may ultimately prove to be an inflammatory disease in the same way that we currently consider rheumatoid arthritis to be an inflammatory condition," Ridker says.
"Atherosclerosis is a life-long process, and we've learned that the long-term use of statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs can greatly reduce cardiovascular risk," he says. "Our data suggest that their long-term use may be working on two aspects of this process: cholesterol levels and inflammation."
For example, in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, Ridker's group reported that healthy individuals with the highest levels of CRP were three times more likely to suffer a first heart attack and two times more likely to suffer a first stroke in an eight-year period than those with the lowest CRP levels.
"Our study is the first to investigate how the long-term use of a statin drug
affects this inflammatory process, and it adds to the growing body of evidence
that inflammation -- the body's reaction to injury -- plays an important role in
the development of heart dise
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association