The CRP blood test is a valuable tool for identifying and monitoring inflammation in the body. It allows healthcare professionals to take action and develop an effective treatment plan to address a health condition.
You can get a CRP test by having your blood drawn by a healthcare provider called a phlebotomist. You don’t need to fast before the test, although other blood tests that require fasting may be performed simultaneously.
What Is CRP?
The level of inflammation in your body can be determined by testing for C-reactive protein (CRP). Your liver produces it and rises when you have an infection or injury.
It also tells your healthcare provider how harmful the inflammation is. A higher number means more inflammation. An average number is less than 50 mg/L.
A high level may indicate a severe infection or injury, such as a viral or bacterial illness, an uncomplicated urinary tract infection, or a flare-up of a chronic inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus. It’s also used to monitor the treatment of these conditions and to make decisions about a patient who might be developing sepsis—the body’s life-threatening response to a severe infection that spreads throughout the bloodstream.
The test itself involves getting a small sample of blood from your body. A healthcare professional, such as a nurse or phlebotomist, will wrap your arm in a band or tap on the area around the elbow to find a vein. A needle will be inserted into a vein to collect blood, and the blood will be drawn into a tube. The procedure usually takes just a few minutes.
A CRP test can show how much inflammation you have but cannot identify what’s causing the inflammation or where in your body it’s located. That’s why your doctor will use the test results, other tests, symptoms, and medical history to diagnose.
What Causes High CRP Levels?
A doctor may order a CRP test to see if inflammation is occurring in your body. A blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm, typically just above the elbow. The technician, known as a phlebotomist, will wrap your arm in a band or tape to help you keep it still and find the right spot for the draw. They will then use a small needle to puncture your vein and allow the blood to flow into a test tube. The process takes only a few minutes.
What is a CRP level indicate? Your CRP level rises in response to inflammation and falls once the inflammation has subsided or the infection has cleared up. This makes it a good indicator of infection or inflammation in your body.
However, it is also possible to have elevated levels of CRP without any apparent underlying causes. Mild protein elevations are often seen in females and older patients. They can be related to several factors, including poor sleep, depression, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and smoking.
Your doctor may want to check your CRP levels if you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. If your CRP is high, you might need a more intensive treatment plan (including a hospital stay) to determine and treat the cause.
How Do High CRP Levels Affect Your Health?
High CRP levels indicate inflammation but don’t necessarily mean you have an infection or disease. Several factors raise CRP, including smoking and specific health conditions. After your test, your doctor will discuss the results with you.
The most significant effect of high CRP is an increased risk for heart disease. Chronic inflammation signaled by elevated CRP damages the lining of blood vessels and influences plaque buildup, which can lead to a heart attack. Acute inflammation can lead to blood clots, obstructing oxygen and nutrient flow and causing organ failure.
Inflammation can also narrow and stiffen arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and high blood pressure (hypertension). A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, and fruits can lower CRP levels. Avoid inflammatory foods like fried foods, sugary drinks, and processed meats.
The cost of the CRP test is relatively low and can be performed with a simple blood sample. It is often done with cholesterol testing to assess a person’s cardiovascular risk. Before the test, ask your doctor if you need to fast or if you should take any medication with it. A newer test called the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) has greater sensitivity and is more accurate than standard CRP tests at measuring inflammation in the blood vessels.
What Can You Do About High CRP Levels?
A blood test is the only way to know if you have high CRP levels. During a medical examination, a healthcare professional will use a tiny needle to extract blood from a vein in your arm. You might feel a pricking sensation or a slight sting when they insert the needle. Once they have enough blood, they’ll remove the needle and apply a cloth to stop bleeding. The entire process should only take a few minutes. If you’re worried about the procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to calm your nerves.
You can also help keep your CRP levels in check by making specific lifestyle changes. These may include eating healthier, losing weight, and taking cholesterol-lowering medications like statins. It’s also essential to avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol, as these habits can raise CRP levels.
Generally, a normal range for CRP levels is less than 10 mg/L. However, your doctor will want to examine the underlying cause of your elevated levels and determine whether you’re at risk for serious health issues. Depending on your symptoms and overall health, they may decide you need more intensive treatment to return your CRP levels to a safe range. Fortunately, most people with high CRP can lower their level naturally with lifestyle changes and proper treatment.