Causes & Symptoms of High C-Reactive Protein (CRP)

Produced by the liver in response to injury or inflammation in the body, C-reactive protein functions as a highly sensitive acute phase reactant that is released into the blood within a few hours of an injury or inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the blood can help doctors detect inflammation in the body, which might have been caused by an acute condition, and can be measured with a simple CRP blood test. Other uses of the CRP test include monitoring the progression and treatment efficacy for chronic conditions.

The Importance of the CRP Test

The normal range for the CRP test might vary from lab to lab, but in general, is quite low, as the protein is only released into the blood to control inflammation, which is the body’s automatic reaction for protecting its tissues from damage in case of an infection or injury. A positive CRP test means high C-reactive protein levels, which are a biomarker used to detect inflammation in the body. One’s CRP test report can help their doctor get an overview of their health. The various uses of the CRP test include:

  • Detecting inflammation caused by an infection
  • Diagnosing chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Determining one’s risk factors for developing cardiovascular diseases
  • Evaluating the risk an individual faces for suffering a second heart attack

However, it is crucial to note that while the C-reactive protein test can detect inflammation, it is not a diagnostic tool and cannot help with understanding the cause or location of the inflammation, for which further tests have to be prescribed. For a positive CRP test, treatment shall be required for the underlying condition. However, there are several habits and conditions that could be the cause behind high CRP levels. The possible causes of increased CRP levels, or risk factors, are more often than not associated with other heart disease-related risk factors, including:

  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes

On receiving a positive CRP test report, a treatment plan involving lifestyle changes, weight loss, and medication might be suggested.

Symptoms of High CRP Levels

Generally, in cases where inflammation is caused by bacterial infections, a rapid increase in CRP levels can be detected even before the symptoms of the same develop. However, the symptoms of CRP levels being higher than the normal range will vary depending on the underlying condition.

Some of the common symptoms of high CRP levels that one suffering from a moderate infection or injury or from a condition that leads to chronic inflammation may develop include:

  • Pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Stiffness or soreness in the muscles
  • Weakness of the muscles
  • Fever that is low-grade, but does not get better
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
  • Unexplained weight loss

Excessively high C-reactive protein levels are generally an indicator of acute infections, and symptoms might include:

  • Severe headaches
  • High fever
  • Sweating, chills, or shaking
  • Persistent retching or vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hives or other rashes
  • Body pain
  • Stiffness or soreness
  • Loss of consciousness

Understanding the Causes of High CRP Levels

As high CRP levels may be associated with serious underlying conditions, it may be necessary for one to undergo other tests that can help their doctor provide an accurate diagnosis. Some of the most common causes of high CRP is the blood are:

Underlying Medical Conditions

There are several diseases and medical conditions that can lead to chronic inflammation, triggering the production and release of CRP in the blood. These include:

  • Bacterial infections, like sepsis
  • Fungal infections
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Bone infections, like osteomyelitis

Lifestyle Habits

  • Improper Sleep: Whether it is too much sleep or too little sleep, frequent naps, or infrequent naps, one’s sleep schedule, based on night-time and daytime sleep, can also raise the levels of C-reactive protein in the blood.
  • Stress: Chronic stress, and the resultant low-grade inflammation-related diseases, can also increase CRP levels significantly.
  • Socioeconomic Standing: Several studies have found links between social and economic factors and the CRP levels of individuals, as these factors can easily translate into chronic stress. It has been observed that CRP levels tend to decrease as the socioeconomic standing of families and the neighbourhood rise*.
  • Substance Abuse: Nicotine dependence, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. can also elevate CRP levels.

Dietary Intake

Improper diet is another reason behind high CRP, like diets heavy in trans fats, lauric and mystic acids, high saturated fatty acid, etc. can also increase CRP. High levels of the protein can also be linked to vitamin A, D, and K deficiencies.

Hormonal Imbalance

High levels of leptin (satiety hormone) or undergoing hormone replacement therapy (oestrogen therapy) have also been known to increase CRP in the blood.

An important fact to remember is that high CRP levels might not always indicate the presence of a medical issue or condition. So, once the CRP test report has been generated, one should consult their healthcare practitioner for the prescription of further testing (if required) and a proper prognosis and treatment.

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