Background: Inflammation may be important in the pathogenesis of atherothrombosis. We studied whether inflammation increases the risk of a first thrombotic event and whether treatment with aspirin decreases the risk.
Methods: We measured plasma C-reactive protein, a marker for systemic inflammation, in 543 apparently healthy men participating in the Physicians' Health Study in whom myocardial infarction, stroke, or venous thrombosis subsequently developed, and in 543 study participants who did not report vascular disease during a follow-up period exceeding eight years. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive aspirin or placebo at the beginning of the trial.
Results: Base-line plasma C-reactive protein concentrations were higher among men who went on to have myocardial infarction (1.51 vs. 1.13 mg per liter, P<0.001) or ischemic stroke (1.38 vs. 1.13 mg per liter, P=0.02), but not venous thrombosis (1.26 vs. 1.13 mg per liter, P=0.34), than among men without vascular events. The men in the quartile with the highest levels of C-reactive protein values had three times the risk of myocardial infarction (relative risk, 2.9; P<0.001) and two times the risk of ischemic stroke (relative risk, 1.9; P=0.02) of the men in the lowest quartile. Risks were stable over long periods, were not modified by smoking, and were independent of other lipid-related and non-lipid-related risk factors. The use of aspirin was associated with significant reductions in the risk of myocardial infarction (55.7 percent reduction, P=0.02) among men in the highest quartile but with only small, nonsignificant reductions among those in the lowest quartile (13.9 percent, P=0.77).
Conclusions: The base-line plasma concentration of C-reactive protein predicts the risk of future myocardial infarction and stroke. Moreover, the reduction associated with the use of aspirin in the risk of a first myocardial infarction appears to be directly related to the level of C-reactive protein, raising the possibility that antiinflammatory agents may have clinical benefits in preventing cardiovascular disease.