New blood test for heart disease detection


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you please explain what the C-reactive protein blood test indicates? My C-reactive protein was 3.5. The doctor said this was high but didn’t say why, and the subject was dismissed. I am 79. — B.M.

 ANSWER: C-reactive protein is a blood test that detects inflammation. Infections and illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis can raise it. It doesn’t point to any specific illness; it says only that the body has a site of inflammation. That’s the old test.

 You’re talking about the new C-reactive protein test, hs-C-reactive protein. The “hs” stands for “high sensitivity.” It’s a new variation of the old test, and it’s used for diagnosis of heart artery inflammation. Inflammation of artery lining leads to the buildup of plaque — a mound of cholesterol, fat and other substances that clings to the artery wall and obstructs blood flow through it. The results of this test add to a person’s likelihood of having a heart attack or a stroke. Your value of 3.5 is slightly elevated. The normal hs-C-reactive protein should be less than 3, and some would set the upper limit at 2.

 This information has to be taken in light of all the other information that predicts the possibility of a heart attack or stroke — things like total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), blood pressure, age, family history of heart attacks and strokes, diabetes, smoking and physical activity.

 Exercise, diet changes and smoking cessation are the interventions suited to your hs-C-reactive protein result. Daily exercise of eventually 30 minutes is worth your consideration. Walking is an example. Smoking speaks for itself. Your diet ought to focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and go easy on whole-fat dairy products and red meat. You should limit salt. Two servings of fish a week help keep arteries free of buildup. If you don’t like fish, substitute fish oil capsules containing omega-3 fatty acids.

 The booklet on coronary artery disease provides other tips to prevent a heart attack. Readers can obtain a copy by writing to: Dr. Donohue — No. 101, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6. Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What causes restless leg syndrome? Is there a cure? — H.N.

 ANSWER: An intensely unpleasant sensation — like a crawling, burning or tingling feeling — in the legs that comes on mostly in the evening or night when a person is sitting in a chair or lying in bed is the distinguishing symptom of restless leg syndrome. The sensation forces a person to get up and walk around to get rid of it.

 I wish I could tell you the cause. For a few, it’s iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia. Or it might represent nerve damage. For most, a cause cannot be found.

 One thing that can limit the severity and frequency of restless leg attacks is to decrease the amount of caffeine drunk. Thirty minutes of daily exercise is another, and walking fits the bill.

 If medicines are needed, Mirapex and Requip might be helpful. They are Parkinson’s disease medicines.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had an allergy problem for many years that seems to be due to dust. It causes me to sneeze and have a runny nose. When I take one tablet of Reactine, it helps me a lot.

 I would like to know if there are any foods I can eat to get rid of my allergy. — B.T.

 ANSWER: I don’t know of any food that rids a person of allergies. Some foods cause an allergy, but that’s a story for another day. Have you seen an allergist? Desensitization might help you.

 Reactine is the Canadian brand name for cetirizine, an antihistamine. In the United States, the brand name of that drug is Zyrtec.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from