The blood chemical called C-reactive protein (CRP)–an indicator of inflammation–is elevated in many heart disease patients. A new study of people who died suddenly of various causes finds that those who succumbed to a heart attack had an abundance of CRP in the blood, even though few had had outward signs of heart problems.
The finding bolsters the case for using CRP as a diagnostic tool to detect heart ailments because autopsies revealed that high CRP concentrations in blood coincide with the presence of dangerously unstable atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries.
Plaques can be fat-filled or fibrous. In a coronary artery, either type can cause a heart attack. Unstable, fat-filled plaques can burst, and the blood's clotting factors rush to the site and block the vessel. Sometimes fibrous plaques also come apart, attracting clotting agents, or they remain intact but narrow the vessel and short-circuit the heart's signals, says Allen P. Burke, a pat