C-reactive protein and hypertension

Susan G. Lakoski, MD, MS1

David M. Siscovick, MD, MPH2

David M. Herrington, MD, MHS1

Cardiology Review® Online, February 2007, Volume 24, Issue 2

We assessed whether C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations predicted future risk of hypertension in a cohort of young adults. Results showed that CRP levels do not independently predict risk of incident hypertension after accounting for body mass index. Further research is needed in the area of inflammation and hypertension, with a special focus on the effect of obesity and age-related changes on this process.

“Readers Wishing to see the Table in This Paper Should Consult the Print Version.”

Hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.1 Understanding the mechanisms related to the development of hypertension may result in potential targets for nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic interventions and may potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular deaths. Numerous epidemiologic studies have shown an association between inflammation, measured by C-reactive protein (CRP) concentration, and prevalent hypertension.2-4 Further evidence has supported a role for inflammation in the development of hypertension in middle-aged adults.5,6 We evaluated whether CRP levels predicted future risk of hypertension in a young adult cohort, which would potentially allow for earlier and more aggressive prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Subjects and methods

The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study was started in 1985-1986 to identify the elements associated with coronary risk factor development in young adults. C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations of 3919 white and African-American men and women aged 25-to-37 years who were enrolled in the CARDIA study were measured. Incident hypertension was defined as a self-reported physician diagnosis of hypertension, current use of antihypertensive medication among individuals who did not have hypertension 8 years earlier, or a blood pressure of ≥ 140/90 mm Hg. The relationship between CRP concentration and incident hypertension was assessed by logistic regression modeling. We used generalized linear modeling to determine whether CRP levels predicted a change in systolic or diastolic blood pressure over a period of 8 years.






In univariable models, CRP concentrations > 3 mg/L were associated with a 79% greater risk of incident hypertension compared with CRP concentrations < 1 mg/L (odds ratio [OR] = 1.79; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.40-2.28). This risk was attenuated and no longer statistically significant, however, after adjusting for body mass index (BMI; OR = 1.14; 95% CI, 0.86-1.53) or BMI and other potential confounders (OR = 1.13; 95% CI, 0.83-1.52). When assessing the risk of incident hypertension by quartiles of CRP, comparing the highest quartile (> 3.19 mg/L) with the referent (< 0.48 mg/L), the risk of developing hypertension was increased 2-fold (OR = 2.25; 95% CI, 1.66-3.06; = .001). After adjusting for BMI, however, CRP did not predict incident hypertension (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 0.95-1.92; = .20). CRP concentration also did not correlate with change in systolic or diastolic blood pressure after adjusting for BMI ( = .10 and = .70, respectively). These findings were similar for men and women (Table) and within race-specific groups.


Numerous studies have shown an independent association between elevated concentrations of CRP and prevalent2-4 or incident hypertension5-6 in middle-aged adult populations. In the current study of a younger cohort, when the prevalence of hypertension and other risk factors is low, we determined whether CRP predicted the development of hypertension. In the CARDIA study, an association between CRP concentration and incident hypertension was attenuated and no longer statistically significant after adjustment for BMI. These results were true for both men and women and for African-American and white participants.

Although an apparent CRP-hypertension relationship may be confounded by obesity, it is also possible that a complex relationship exists between inflammation and obesity, leading to the development of hypertension. The latter possibility is supported by a link between the renin-angiotensin system and adiposity,7 and obesity-related hypertension via insulin-mediated sympathetic stimulation,8 both of which have an inflammatory component.9,10 Delineating differences in this relationship as individuals age could also play an important role in understanding an obesity-inflammation mechanism related to hypertension.


In a young cohort, CRP does not independently predict risk for incident hypertension after accounting for BMI. Additional research is required in the area of inflammation and hypertension, with a special focus on the effect of obesity and age-related changes on this process. In addition, it is also important to investigate other potential unmeasured variables, such as environmental factors (eg, air pollution), which may have an inflammatory component and may partially account for a CRP-hypertension relationship.