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March 14, 2005

Simple White Blood Cell Test Could Predict Heart Disease

A research study on 66,000 women has shown that a simple blood test for elevated levels of infection-fighting white blood cells can tip a doctor off to the likelihood of the patient's developing heart disease, according to an Associated Press story.

The test is much less expensive than that used to detect another inflammation marker, C-reactive protein (CRP).

In the study, a white blood cell count did not have to be off the charts to predict heart disease death. Levels at the upper end of normal, or above 6.7 billion white blood cells per liter of blood, doubled the risk.

Women with the highest levels of white blood cells were found to be twice as likely to die from heart disease as women with the lowest levels. High white blood cell counts also were associated with a 40 percent higher risk for nonfatal heart attack and a 46 percent higher risk for stroke.

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that inflammation plays a role in strokes and heart attacks, perhaps by weakening blood vessels and causing fatty buildups inside them to break loose and create a blockage.

Update: New research appears to confirm the results of the study described above:

A molecule that usually protects the body’s infection-fighting cells might also contribute to fatty buildups that coat arteries and lead to heart disease, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have found.

The molecule, called apoptosis inhibitor of macrophage or AIM, inhibits cell death in macrophages [white blood cells], which circulate in the bloodstream and help the body fend off infection and foreign substances. The AIM-protected macrophages go on to encourage buildup of fats on the interior walls of arteries, according to Dr. Toru Miyazaki, senior author of a study that appears in the March issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.


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