Aging is one reason a patient might have higher levels of inflammation, Dr. Ijem said. Another is genetics, and some infections can also contribute to inflammation.
People who believe they might be at risk for heart attack or heart disease should see a qualified primary care provider, Dr. Ijem said. The physician will take a history and determine risks, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and genetic predisposition, he said.
The physician can order blood tests to determine inflammation levels, he said. Patients with high levels of inflammation may one day be prescribed medicines like canakinumab, which is not yet approved for treating heart conditions.
Ridker said anti-inflammatories are the most important breakthrough since doctors were able to link heart disease to lifestyle and high cholesterol.
Half of heart attacks occur in people who do not have high cholesterol, he said. Anti-inflammatory medicines may be the key to reducing their risk.
“In my lifetime, I’ve gotten to see three broad eras of preventative cardiology,” he said. “In the first, we recognized the importance of diet, exercise and smoking cessation. In the second, we saw the tremendous value of lipid-lowering medicines such as statins. Now, we’re cracking the door open on the third era. This is very exciting.”