Heart Disease and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Testing

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 19, 2022
2 min read

Your body produces C-reactive protein, or CRP, when something is starting to become inflamed. So if a doctor finds CRP in your blood, which they can do through a test, they’ll know there’s inflammation happening somewhere in your body.

If your arteries are inflamed, you have a greater risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral arterial disease

CRP seems to predict the chance of having cardiovascular problems at least as well as cholesterol levels. A recent study found that elevated levels of C-reactive protein were associated with three-times-greater risk of a heart attack.

In a Harvard Women's Health Study, CRP test results were more accurate. Twelve different indicators of inflammation were looked at in healthy women who had already had menopause. Three years later, those with the highest CRP levels were more than four times as likely to have died from coronary disease, or had a heart attack that wasn’t fatal, or stroke, compared with those with the lowest levels.

They also were more likely to have a cardiac procedure, like angioplasty (a procedure that opens clogged arteries with the use of a flexible tube) or bypass surgery, than those with the lowest CRP levels.

It’s done with a simple blood test. It can be done at the same time your cholesterol is checked.

Your chance of having heart disease is determined based on your test results:

Test ResultRisk
Less than 1.0 mgLow
1.0-2.9 mgIntermediate
Greater than 3.0 mgHigh

It's important to note that inflammation due to other things, like an infection, illness, or serious flare-up of arthritis, can also raise CRP levels. So before you get the CRP test, make sure to tell your doctor what other medical conditions you have.

If you’re at moderate risk for heart disease, it may help your doctor figure out if you need more intensive treatment.

Those at high risk should be treated aggressively, anyway. So CRP testing isn’t recommended for them.

The more of these risk factors you have, the higher your risk of heart disease:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • High total cholesterol
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Being male or a post-menopausal woman
  • You smoke cigarettes
  • Uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure
  • You don’t exercise
  • You’re obese or overweight

It’s important for everyone to make these lifestyle changes to reduce their chance of having heart disease. It’s especially important if your CRP level is intermediate or high:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Get your high cholesterol down.
  • Keep your weight where it should be.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, manage it.
  • If you smoke or use tobacco in another way, quit.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly.

Statins, the most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, may reduce your risk of heart disease if your CRP is high. Talk to your doctor about which treatments are best for you.