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Study finds inflammation doubles women’s cardiovascular deaths
A study published in the March 14 2005 issue of the American Medical Association journal, Archives of Internal Medicine found that postmenopausal women's white blood cell counts were predictive of cardiovascular events and death. Elevated white blood cell count, an indicator of an inflammatory state, proved to be independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, and was found to be comparable in magnitude to C-reactive protein (CRP).
Karen L Margolis, MD, of Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis , and colleagues analyzed information obtained from 72,242 participants in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, which enrolled 93,676 postmenopausal women. White blood cell counts were determined upon enrollment, as were other blood values and medical history. Annual questionnaires provided follow-up data, with the exception of a clinical examination at the third year.
There were 1,919 deaths during an average 6 year follow up period, with 187 from cardiovascular disease. It was found that women whose white blood cell counts were in the top one-fourth of participants had twice the risk of death from cardiovascular disease as women whose counts were in the lowest quarter. Women with white blood cell counts in the top fourth also had a 40 percent greater risk of nonfatal myocardial infarction, a 46 percent increased risk of stroke and a 50 percent greater risk of dying of any cause.
The authors state that white blood cell count is a widely available and inexpensive measure of inflammation. They conclude, "These data add to available evidence in men suggesting a similar link and suggest that the predictive role of the WBC count is independent of CRP. Cardiovascular risk categorization by inflammatory markers, including the WBC count, may identify high-risk individuals who are not currently identified by traditional risk factors; further studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of risk reduction in these patients."
In an accompanying editorial, Mary Cushman, MD of the University of Vermont added, "Improvement of the precision of ‘inflammation testing' by exploring even newer biomarkers or using combinations of tests is a ripe area for investigation. The latter will probably require pooled data from multiple studies to achieve precise risk estimates that can be translated into practice."