I believe in preventive health care. As a result, I have additional tests done with my annual physical. One life-saving blood test that everyone should consider is the C-reactive protein (CRP) test. CRP is a protein synthesized by your liver. CRP is used as a marker for inflammation.
In 1930, Tillett and Francis in 1930 discovered a common factor, CRP, in a number of people with a variety of diseases. It is not uncommon for CRP levels to increase 50,000 times more than normal in the presence of acute inflammation. The rise in inflammation above normal limits can happen in as little as six hours and peaks after 48 hours. As long as you have the cause of your inflammation, your level of CRP will remain elevated.
Since CRP is such a good marker for inflammation, it is also used to monitor healing after surgery, particularly organ transplants and burns. It acts as an early detection system for possible infection. A drop in CRP indicates that the cause of your inflammation is being treated properly.
Can you get a false positive with CRP? Yes, there are some things that affect the accuracy of the CRP test. High levels of CRP have been found in the later stages of pregnancy, with women using birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, cases of severe stress, after strenuous exercise and with women using intrauterine devices (IUDs). Additionally, higher levels of CRP have been observed in the obese.
There are two types of medicines affect the accuracy of CRP also. Statin drugs – cholesterol-lowering medications reduce the levels of CRP. Corticosteroids – anti-inflammatory medicines containing the hormone cortisone have been shown to reduce CRP levels.
The CRP test is a blood test. It can be ordered by your doctor as part of a normal office visit or your annual physical. There are some laboratories that will perform the CRP test for you without a doctor’s order. Then the results go directly to you. The cost is minimal – usually under $50.00. There are no fasting or other requirements prior to taking the test. It may be ordered periodically to check the progression of treatments that your doctor has ordered.
The results are easy to understand – the lower the better. Levels below 1.0 mg/L are considered normal with no significant acute or chronic inflammation. My last highly sensitive CRP test was unmeasurable – less than 0.1 mg/L. Levels between 1.0 mg/L and 3.0 mg/L are cautionary – you have an average risk of disease. The test results indicate that inflammation is present at levels slightly above the average, but not to a level to become alarmed. A level of 3.0 mg/L is an alarm for further investigation.
I hear, more often than I want, that someone was just diagnosed with a tumor or some other very significant malady, and they must have surgery and they may not have long to live. I shake my head and think that monitoring your health on a regular basis could have detected something when it was treatable before it became life-threatening.
I use the CRP as my early warning system to something very life-threatening in my life – cancer, -coronary disease, etc. It takes a long time for those kinds of diseases to become well established in your body. The early detection, the better your chances of saving your life. CRP won’t tell you what is causing the inflammation in your body, but it will tell you to look.