January 17, 2006
Hardening of the arteries in the legs is strongly associated with biological markers of inflammation, which may be a warning sign of heart trouble, say Tulane University epidemiologists. In a recently published article, the researchers suggest that an inexpensive test for inflammation may be a good start to identifying warning signs of heart trouble. Inflammation occurs when the body responds in an effort to repair damaged tissue, including the scarring and hardening of arteries over time.
"Our data show that a high leukocyte (an inflammation marker) count was moderately predictive of peripheral arterial disease," says lead author Rachel Wildman, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Leukocytes are commonly known as white blood cells. "Leukocyte count can be assessed using an inexpensive routine test. Our data call for future research to examine whether this test may be good enough for screening purposes."
Wildman and colleagues analyzed data for three inflammation markers: c-reactive protein, fibrinogen and leukocyte count in 4,787 people over age 40 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999 - 2002.
The researchers used that data and ankle and arm blood pressure measures to study the relationship between inflammation markers and peripheral arterial disease, known as PAD. PAD can result in narrower or blocked arteries.
Results from the study show that adults with the highest levels of inflammation markers were twice as likely to have peripheral arterial disease than those with low levels of inflammation. Inflammation was most strongly associated with PAD in non-Hispanic blacks, current smokers and middle-aged patients. The research is published in the December issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.
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