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Heart Disease and C-Reactive Protein

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

American researchers have found evidence that a blood protein linked to inflammation of the arteries is a cause of heart disease. Two independent studies found that lowering the amount of the protein in the blood is just as important as lowering bad cholesterol to prevent heart attacks.

Until recently, doctors were concerned with lowering the amount of bad cholesterol and raising the amount of good cholesterol in the blood. But new research has shown that levels of C-reactive protein, or C.R.P, also must be reduced in order to prevent heart disease.

Studies during the past ten years have found that a major problem in heart disease is inflammation. Inflammation cannot be easily measured. So doctors use blood tests for C.R.P. to measure it.

C-reactive protein is a substance released by the liver. Some experts say the protein is directly linked to fatty plaque buildup in the arteries leading to the heart. They say the protein causes the plaque to break up and form blood clots in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack.

Two studies appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston led the main study. Patients in the study already had severe heart disease and were taking drugs called statins to reduce bad cholesterol levels. Statin drugs also lower levels of C-reactive protein. The researchers found that patients who already had lowered cholesterol levels could reduce their risk of another heart attack by lowering their C.R.P. levels.

The studies showed that even when bad cholesterol levels were normal, people with lower levels of C.R.P. had slower progression of heart disease and fewer heart attacks and deaths.

Doctors say statins are not the only way to lower C.R.P. They say exercise, a healthy diet and stopping smoking also reduce it.

The new findings are only for people who already have heart disease. A separate study is being done to see if lowering C.R.P can reduce heart attacks in healthy people with normal cholesterol levels, but higher levels of C.R.P. Almost half of all heart attacks happen in people with normal cholesterol levels.

Researchers are hopeful that the new information can lead to new medicines to prevent and treat heart disease.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Gwen Outen.