TROY — More Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year than from anything else, which is why researchers have placed greater focus on finding new and better predictors for the disease.
The presence of inflammation in one’s body and its close relationship with cardiovascular disease has become a strong topic of discussion in recent years. Research has shown that inflammation in the blood vessels is common for heart disease and stroke patients although it has not been proven that it directly causes it. Still, the American Heart Association (AHA) said it is important for individuals to understand inflammation and how it affects their heart health and puts them at possible risk for cardiovascular incidents.
Aaron Kaibas, DO, a cardiologist who practices in Tipp City and Troy with Upper Valley Cardiology, said inflammation is the body’s response to injury. It can take place externally on the skin or internally in an organ.
“Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself, but also signaling that something is wrong,” said Dr. Kaibas, who practices with Premier Health Specialists. “If we see inflammation on the skin, we are going to see redness, change in temperature, pain and swelling. In cardiology, we are talking about a different type of inflammation that shares the same premise. This inflammation occurs when there is damage to the lining of a vessel from the build-up of cholesterol or any other type of injury.”
Research has shown that inflammation in the body’s vasculature is central to the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening or narrowing of the arteries. Inflammation itself does not cause a person to develop cardiovascular disease or even experience a heart attack, but it is a proven building block to the processes that may eventually lead to a person experiencing them.
Inflammation can be the result of uncontrolled cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar) and kidney disease. It also can be caused by lifestyle habits such as smoking, lack of exercise and a poor diet. All of these can cause injury to the body’s blood vessels, triggering inflammation.
A blood test called the high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) test can measure the level of inflammation in a person’s body and possibly serve as a predictor for future cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kaibas said the test can be an effective screening option for patients who fit a particular profile.
“In some cases with certain people we can use the test to determine if they truly have inflammation that may lead to heart disease,” Dr. Kaibas said. “It is difficult to use it on everyone because there are so many other factors that can cause a person to have an inaccurate CRP level.”
People who have cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, tuberculosis or pneumonia, for instance, would all have a high CRP level. Likewise, women taking hormone replacement therapy drugs or birth control would also have an elevated level. On the flip side, many medications — such as aspirin, statins and ibuprofen — can cause a person to have lower CRP levels, but still have inflammation in their body.
hs-CRP testing is viable option for patients who are healthy and currently not taking medications. The results of a CRP test can guide their care and prevent future cardiovascular disease, Dr. Kaibas said. The American College of Cardiology set specific guidelines on who would fit that category. This includes men over the age of 50 or women over the age of 60 with no pre-existing health conditions.
Inflammation in the body’s vessels cannot be treated with medication unlike inflammation caused by an infection that can be cured through an antibiotic. However, it can be lessened by several preventive steps.
“There are patients who can be put on a daily aspirin regime or statin medications to reduce inflammation,” Dr. Kaibas said. “These are the people we would strongly suggest begin a daily workout routine, that they have a weight loss goal, stop smoking or have their blood pressure monitored every six months. Once they have done these things, we can retest them to see if the therapy worked and the inflammation is less.”
To learn more about cardiovascular disease and inflammation or to find a physician, visit www.premierhealthspecialists.com.