Inflammation May Predict Future Cardiovascular Disease

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The relationship of inflammation in the body and cardiovascular disease has become a makor topic of discussion in recent years. Research has shown that inflammation in the blood vessels is common for heart disease and stroke patients, although it has not been proven that inflammation directly causes heart disease.

Still, the American Heart Association (AHA) says it is important to understand inflammation and how it affects heart health and increases possible risk for cardiovascular incidents.

More Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year than from anything else, which is why researchers have placed greater focus on finding new and better predictors – or biomarkers for disease.

A Building Block To the Process

Cardiologist Aaron Kaibas, DO, said inflammation is the body’s response to injury. It can take place externally on the skin or internally in an organ.

“Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself, but also signaling that something is wrong,” said Dr. Kaibas. “If we see inflammation on the skin, we are going to see redness, change in temperature, pain, and swelling. In cardiology, we are talking about a different type of inflammation that shares the same premise. This inflammation occurs when there is damage to the lining of a vessel from the buildup of cholesterol or any other type of injury.” 

Research has shown that inflammation in blood vessels is central to the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening or narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fatty deposits, or plaque, that impedes blood flow. Inflammation itself does not cause you to develop cardiovascular disease or even experience a heart attack, but it is a proven building block to the processes that may eventually lead to you experiencing them. 

Inflammation can result from uncontrolled heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and kidney disease. It also can be caused by lifestyle habits such as smoking, lack of exercise, and a poor diet. All of these can cause injury to the body’s blood vessels, triggering inflammation. 

C-reactive Protein (hs-CRP) Test

A blood test called the high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) test can measure the level of inflammation in your body and possibly serve as a predictor for future cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kaibas said, in some cases,  the test can be an effective screening tool.

“With certain people we can use the test to determine if they truly have inflammation that may lead to heart disease,” Dr. Kaibas says. “It is difficult to use it on everyone because there are so many other factors that can cause a person to have an inaccurate CRP level.”

People who have cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, tuberculosis or pneumonia, for instance, would all have a high CRP level. Likewise, women taking hormone replacement therapy drugs or birth control would also have an elevated level. On the flip side, many medications – such as aspirin, statins, and ibuprofen – can cause you to have lower CRP levels, but still have inflammation in your body.

hs-CRP testing is a viable option if you are healthy and not taking medications. The results of a CRP test can guide your care and help prevent future cardiovascular disease, Dr. Kaibas says. The American College of Cardiology set specific guidelines on who would fit that category. This includes men over the age of 50 or women over the age of 60 with no pre-existing health conditions.

Inflammation in blood vessels cannot be treated with medication, unlike inflammation caused by an infection, which can be cured with an antibiotic. However, inflammation can be lessened by several preventive steps.

“There are patients who can be put on a daily aspirin regime or statin medications to reduce inflammation,” Dr. Kaibas said. “These are the people we would strongly suggest begin a daily workout routine, that they have a weight loss goal, stop smoking or have their blood pressure monitored every six months. Once they have done these things, we can retest them to see if the therapy worked and the inflammation is less.”

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