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Detecting Heart Disease

Detecting Heart DiseaseA simple and inexpensive new test may better gauge risk of heart disease, says a Tufts Medical School graduate.

Boston [11.18.02] Of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer heart attacks every year, nearly half do not have high cholesterol, the most common measure of heart disease risk. But a new test - which measures a particular protein - may give doctors a new tool to asses their patients' risk of heart problems, says a graduate of Tufts School of Medicine.

"In a study that may change the way millions of people assess their risk of heart disease, researchers have found that testing for protein produced when arteries are inflamed is a more reliable way of predicting a person's chance of having a heart attack or stroke than measuring cholesterol level," reported The Boston Globe.

The new test checks levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP. In a recent study, researchers found that women with high levels of CRP -even those with low cholesterol counts - were nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as those with normal levels.

"CRP could help us determine high risk in someone that looks like they should be at low risk," Dr. Richard Nesto - a graduate of Tufts School of Medicine -- told Boston's ABC affiliate NewsCenter 5. "When I see a 45-year-old man coming in with a heart attack in the middle of the night who doesn't have significant risk factors, those patients often have elevated CRPs,"

CRP is produced by the liver when arteries are inflamed. Inflammation makes plaque in the arteries unstable - increasing the chance that it will break off and form a blood clot that causes a stroke or heart attack.

While it is likely that cholesterol levels will remain the main indicator that doctors use to assess risk, new understanding of the way CRP levels effect the heart may lead to better prediction of risk to patients without high cholesterol - which account for about 50 percent of cases.

"It's an inescapable fact to me that there's a link between inflammation and heart attack and stroke, and CRP is how we measure that," the Tufts graduate - a specialist in diagnosis and treatment of coronary disease at Lahey Clinic -- told NewsCenter 5.

The cost of the CRP test - at $10 to $16 - is about the same as a cholesterol test. The treatment is similar as well.

"Nesto said that when identified, high CRPs can be effectively treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs," reported the news channel.


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