November 10th, 2008
11:59 AM ET
by Miriam Falco
A new study presented at a major heart conference over the weekend suggests that many of us who have good cholesterol numbers could help prevent heart disease by taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Currently these drugs, known as statins, are prescribed only for people with existing heart problems and/or high bad cholesterol.
Could I be one of those candidates? Maybe I am, I don’t know. My cholesterol level is well below 200, which is what folks should aim for. But It’s been a couple of years since I last had my cholesterol checked, and I’m not sure how good my LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level is.
More important, people who participated in this study may have had optimal ‘bad” cholesterol levels, but they had high levels of “high-sensitivity C-reactive protein” or hsCRP, an indicator of inflammation in the body, which can contribute to the clogging of arteries. You may have had heard about CRP, but I for one have never had it tested.
Now, after folks read about this new research, they may be asking their doctors if they should get the test.
The men who particpated in this trial were 50 and older; the women were over age 60.
But as Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, points out, adults at any age who are at "intermediate risk" for heart disease probably will want to talk to their doctor about having a 'high-sensitivity C-reactive protein or 'hsCRP" test.
How do you know if you are at intermediate risk? Nabel suggests one way to determine your risk for heart disease is by checking the so-called "Framingham score," which estimates the risk of developing coronary heart disease within 10 years based on risk factors including age, gender, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and if you smoke.
By using a simple risk calculator, which can be found here, anyone can calculate his or her risk for heart attack and coronary death.
If your score suggests you have a 10-20 percent risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years, you are at “intermediate” risk.
Dr. Paul Ridker, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts who is the lead researcher of this big study says there are two types of CRP tests – but only one tests for the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. So patients who want to know if they should be taking statins even though they have good cholesterol levels, need to ask for an “hsCRP” blood test. The regular CRP test isn't sensitive enough to detect the risky inflammation in people with normal to good cholesterol levels.
Do you think you might get your hsCRP tested?
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