11/15/02 - A More Important Test for Your Heart Than Cholesterol

You may think you're doing all you can to keep heart attacks at bay by having your cholesterol checked, but researchers say there's another trigger you may be ignoring: inflammation of the heart. A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports that a simple test can predict your chance of having a heart attack and is even more important than checking your cholesterol.
73 year-old Shirley Taylor recently had a heart attack. She says the test is good news, if it can protect people from going through what she's been through. "I was one of those who was going to live forever, and not get like that, but gradually we all get there," Taylor says. Wednesday afternoon her heart told her she had gotten there, when out of the blue, an intense pain shot through her back. "All of a sudden, the sweat just poured off me, that was the unusual," she says. Taylor had a heart attack. She says, "I was healthy, getting older of course, I didn't have any problems." But Taylor did have problems, she just wasn't aware of them. Her heart attack was caused by cholesterol blockage. Bypass surgery saved her life.
Bad cholesterol levels causing heart attacks is something that doctors have known for years, but now, researchers hope checking your cholesterol, and your heart for inflammation will save more lives. Saint Francis Hospitalist Dr. Ryan Davis says, "Inflammation is an influx of white blood cells into the blood vessels which can cause the rupture of fatty plaques and cause heart attacks." Doctors say you can check inflammation by a simple blood test. It's called C-reactive protein or CRP. It's simple, inexpensive and works by measuring painless inflammation inside the body. Dr. Davis says you can get your heart tested for inflammation during a routine physical, and you can easily cut your risks of it happening to you. "You can cut your risk of inflammation by exercise, cholesterol lowering drugs and aspirin," Dr. Davis says. CRP tests cost anywhere from 25 to 50 dollars.