Strokes, also known as cerebrovascular accidents or brain attacks, occur when cells in the brain die due to insufficient blood flow (ischemia) or bleeding within the brain tissue (hemorrhagic). Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke, and of that over 80% are in the ischemic type. Strokes kill about 130,000 Americans every year.
"The biggest risk of death for someone who has already had a stroke is to have another one," said University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher Stephen Williams, PhD. "So it's really important to be able to try and target those individuals who are at the highest risk for the thing that very well may kill them."
As with many health conditions, genetics play a big role in risk for strokes. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that high levels of a blood-based biomarker, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), actually influences this risk and the risk for recurrent strokes.
CRP is an inflammatory protein made in the liver, and has been linked to other health conditions like coronary artery disease. High levels of CRP cause arterial plaques to be unstable and break off, causing blockages like that in ischemic strokes.
The UVA researchers also found that certain genetic variants are involved in CRP levels and stroke risks. "There's this shared genetic susceptibility not only for increased C-Reactive Protein but for increased risk for stroke. We could estimate what's called a hazard ratio - basically the increased risk for having or not having a second stroke - based on the genetics,” said Williams.
A blood draw, then, could let doctors know the CRP levels as well as the person’s genetic profile related to stroke predisposition. This information could allow doctors to monitor high-risk patients and intervene early enough to treat, and possibly even prevent, second strokes. Best of all, researchers say the tool for applying this diagnostic test is already in place.
"Getting a CRP measure on someone is really simple. It's just a blood draw. You don't have to take something like a biopsy which patients might have an aversion to," Williams said. "It's not very expensive, and it's part of routine workups that could be done for patients. However, combined with genetic information, we may have even more power to identify those at greatest risk."
Additional source: MNT