Heart disease is the number one cause of premature death in this country – and no one is immune from the devastating effects of a heart attack. On the other hand, some people are at higher risk than others for reasons ranging from genetics to simple lifestyle factors. How do you know if you’re a high risk for heart disease without getting complicated tests run?
Blood Tests for Heart Disease Risk
Most people are familiar with the lipid panel their doctor draws to make sure their HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol is normal. The number and size of LDL particles give valuable information about a person’s heart attack risk. But they’re not the only ones. There are now other blood tests for heart disease that make it easier to determine if a person is at high risk for a heart attack. What are some of these tests?
C-Reactive Protein to Detect Heart Disease
C-reactive protein, or CRP, is a protein produced by the liver that’s a marker for inflammation. When arteries develop plaque, they become inflamed, which causes levels of CRP to rise. To look at heart disease risk, doctors order a special CRP protein test that tests for hs-CRP since it’s the most sensitive test. The results of this test should be used in conjunction with other cardiac risk factors since inflammation in other areas of the body can elevate CRP too.
Blood Tests for Heart Disease: Homocysteine
Homocysteine is an amino acid associated with a higher risk of heart and blood vessel disease. High homocysteine levels damage the walls of blood vessels making them more prone to blood clots that can lead to heart attacks. Homocysteine levels can be raised by certain vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin B12, B6, and folate, but lowering homocysteine levels with supplements doesn’t seem to reduce the risk of heart disease. This means that homocysteine is a marker for someone at high risk for heart problems. Unfortunately, a blood test to measure homocysteine levels is relatively expensive but may be worth it for someone concerned about their risk for heart disease.
Using Fibrinogen to Determine Heart Disease Risk
Fibrinogen has the important job of helping blood to clot, but too much of it increases the risk of forming a sinister clot that leads to a heart attack. Doctors can check fibrinogen levels in the blood, but the results should be interpreted with caution. In the absence of other cardiac risk factors, elevated levels may not be significant – but in a person with other risk factors, it should raise a red flag.
Blood Tests for Heart Disease Risk: Myeloperoxidase
Myeloperoxidase is an enzyme that may be elevated for years prior to the appearance of heart disease. When plaque forms in the walls of arteries, they become inflamed. When they do, white blood cells produce myeloperoxidase, which can be picked up through a blood test. Along with hs-CRP, myeloperoxidase is one of the best researched biomarkers for heart disease.
Blood Tests to Detect Heart Disease Risk: The Bottom Line?
Sometimes, these type of blood tests for heart disease risk need to be checked several times to properly evaluate heart disease risk – which can be expensive. On the other hand, these tests may provide valuable information about a person’s risk of having a future heart attack. Discuss these tests with your doctor.
Amednews.com. “Unmasking hearts at risk: Indicators can be hidden”
Curr Opin Lipidol. 2002 Aug;13(4):383-9.