The Association Between Self-Reported Symptoms of Recent Airway Infection and CRP Values in a General Population
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a much used biomarker for respiratory tract infection; however, the influence of airway infection on the CRP level in the general population has not been well described. The study aimed to evaluate the impact of recent symptoms of airway infection on the CRP level and how the predictive power of other known CRP predictors is influenced by taking respiratory symptoms into account. A total of 6,325 participants, aged 38–87 years, in the Tromsø Study, a repeated population-based survey, were examined with questionnaires, measurements of height and weight, spirometry, and high-sensitivity CRP analyses. The mean CRP value was 2.8- 6 mg/L, and the geometric mean was 1.51 mg/L. Geometric means above 2.0 mg/L were found in the subgroups with the following characteristics: self-reported COPD, diabetes, recent symptoms of airway infection, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) <80% predicted, body mass index (BMI) ≥30, and subjects treated with inhaled or oral corticosteroids. Among the subjects who reported recent airway infection, 10.5% had a CRP value of ≥10 mg/L, compared to 3.3% among the remaining participants. By multivariate analysis, BMI was the strongest independent predictor of the CRP level, followed by recent airway infection, FEV1% predicted, age, and current smoking. The study clearly demonstrates that a report of recent symptoms of airway infection strongly predicts the CRP level in the population. Such symptoms were shared rather equally between subgroups with increased CRP level, and the risk of being an important confounder in epidemiological studies is probably low. In the clinical setting, care should be taken when using the CRP level as a guide for medical prevention of chronic diseases.