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Jan 10, 2012

Inflammation and Heart Failure Risk

Study shows inflammation may increase risk for heart failure in men.

Inflammation is the body’s natural defense system against bacteria and foreign substances, and often proves very useful in fighting off harmful infections and viruses. Through the body’s own chemicals and white blood cells, the process of inflammation helps attack intruders and keeps us healthy. But research suggests that inflammation may not always be beneficial to our health, especially over long periods of time.

Research shows that markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive proteins, may be associated with increased risk of heart failure. And a recent study demonstrated that another marker of systemic inflammation—white blood cell count—may also be associated with increased heart failure risk. This research was part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, following over 16,000 men and women for an average of 12.4 years, tracking participants’ cardiovascular health and inflammation markers. Researchers found that among these participants, elevated white blood cell counts were significantly associated with increased risk for heart failure among men but not women.

Although there has been little data supporting the association between elevated white blood cell counts and cardiovascular risk, this European study helps add to the growing body of evidence around inflammation and increased risk for heart failure. By continuing to identify markers that help assess cardiovascular health, doctors can better identify patients at high risk for cardiovascular conditions and events. In return, patients can become better informed about their cardiovascular risk and help prevent conditions, such as heart failure, in the future.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How are white blood cell counts tested?

  • White blood cell counts can be measured using a simple blood test, which is most commonly used to determine the presence of infections.
  • How does inflammation increase cardiovascular risk?

  • The exact role that inflammation plays in cardiovascular health remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the build-up of plaque in the arteries may cause inflammation, and as the body continually attacks these fatty deposits, it can wear the body down and/or cause blood clots—one of the most common causes of heart attack and stroke.

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