Inflammation Adds to Blood Pressure Risks
High Blood Pressure and C-Reactive Protein May Trigger Heart Attack, Stroke
Nov. 24, 2003 -- Having high blood pressure may be especially
dangerous for women with high levels of the inflammation marker known as
C-reactive protein (CRP).
A new study shows that when both blood pressure and CRP levels
are elevated, the risk of heart attack and stroke may be as much as eight times
Researchers say that findings lend support to growing evidence
that shows inflammation plays an important role in the development of heart
disease. C-reactive protein serves as an indicator of inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is though to be the underlying mechanism for cardiovascular
"This study provides the first evidence that CRP and blood
pressure interact to increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes,"
says researcher Paul M. Ridker, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard
Medical School, in a news release. "At all levels of blood pressure, the
patients with higher CRP readings were at substantially greater risk of future
cardiovascular events than patients with lower CRP."
The findings appear in tomorrow's rapid access edition of
Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
CRP and Blood Pressure Work Together
In the study, researchers looked at blood pressure and CRP
levels in a group of 15,215 women who were participants in the Women's Health
Study and were an average of 54 years old at the start of the study.
After about eight years of follow-up, 321 of the women had a
major heart event, such as a heart attack or stroke, or required heart surgery
to restore blood flow to the heart.
Researchers found that as blood pressure levels rose, so did
the risk of heart problems. But they also found that after adjusting for other
risk factors, like smoking and diabetes, C-reactive protein levels rose with
blood pressure levels. They also found that in women with similar blood
pressure readings, those with higher CRP levels had higher risks of heart
For example, the average CRP level was 1.33 mg/L among women
with blood pressure readings less than 120/75 compared with 1.84 mg/L among
those with blood pressure levels above 160/95.
Specifically, the study showed that the risk of heart attack,
stroke, or other heart-related problems was eight times higher among women with
the highest blood pressure and CRP levels compared with those with the
Researchers say they're not sure whether high blood pressure
triggers inflammation, which in turn raises C-reactive protein levels, or if
inflammation stimulates high blood pressure.
But they say the fact that they're so closely related may be
especially important for stroke prevention efforts. This is because high blood
pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.
"This finding has particular interest for the prevention of
stroke because we have known for a long time that high blood pressure predicts
stroke risk," says Ridker. "These data raise the intriguing possibility
that lowering blood pressure might also lower CRP levels. If so, we hope this
will not only prevent heart attacks but [also] the devastating consequences of