Elevated white blood cell count or CRP bad news in the very elderly

February 22, 2010

     Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands report that a high white blood cell count and/or an elevated value for C-reactive protein (a proxy for inflammation in the circulatory system) independently predict a man and women’s risk of dying within a period of up to 10 years following their 85th birthday. Elevations in both white blood cells and C-reactive protein (CRP) are markers of inflammation, which is associated with vascular events such as strokes and heart attacks and other health concerns.
     The study included 599 individuals enrolled between 1997 and 1999 in the Leiden 85-plus Study of local residents born between 1912 and 1914. Participants were followed until their deaths, or until February, 2008. Blood samples obtained upon recruitment were analyzed for white blood cells, C-reactive protein levels, and other factors. Over a mean 5.4 year follow-up period, 169 subjects died of vascular causes and 277 of nonvascular causes. There were 6 deaths from unknown causes. Higher white blood cell counts increased the risk of dying as did higher C-reactive protein levels. After adjusting the data, the authors concluded that “both WBC count and CRP level are independent predictors of mortality at old age.”
     “To our knowledge, the comparison of these predictors, white blood count and CRP lev­els, in the relation with an increased mortality has not been described before,” they write. “Addi­tional studies are needed to determine whether interventions to decrease these markers can reduce the increased mortal­ity risk (actually, a number of other but older studies have indicate3d that an elevated white blood cell count is dangerous in the elderly; Jerry Hickey, R.PH.). In clinical practice, it is necessary to pay more at­tention to the potential of white blood cell count as a predictor for mortality in the oldest old.” The article is published online on January 27, 2010, ahead of print in The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences