Use of multiple inflammatory marker tests in primary care: using Clinical Practice Research Datalink to evaluate accuracy

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BACKGROUND: Research comparing C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and plasma viscosity (PV) in primary care is lacking. Clinicians often test multiple inflammatory markers, leading to concerns about overuse. AIM: To compare the diagnostic accuracies of CRP, ESR, and PV, and to evaluate whether measuring two inflammatory markers increases accuracy. DESIGN AND SETTING: Prospective cohort study in UK primary care using the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. METHOD: The authors compared diagnostic test performance of inflammatory markers, singly and paired, for relevant disease, defined as any infections, autoimmune conditions, or cancers. For each of the three tests (CRP, ESR, and PV), sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), negative predictive value (NPV), and area under receiver operator curve (AUC) were calculated. RESULTS: Participants comprised 136 961 patients with inflammatory marker testing in 2014; 83 761 (61.2%) had a single inflammatory marker at the index date, and 53 200 (38.8%) had multiple inflammatory markers. For 'any relevant disease', small differences were seen between the three tests; AUC ranged from 0.659 to 0.682. CRP had the highest overall AUC, largely because of marginally superior performance in infection (AUC CRP 0.617, versus ESR 0.589, P<0.001). Adding a second test gave limited improvement in the AUC for relevant disease (CRP 0.682, versus CRP plus ESR 0.688, P<0.001); this is of debatable clinical significance. The NPV for any single inflammatory marker was 94% compared with 94.1% for multiple negative tests. CONCLUSION: Testing multiple inflammatory markers simultaneously does not increase ability to rule out disease and should generally be avoided. CRP has marginally superior diagnostic accuracy for infections, and is equivalent for autoimmune conditions and cancers, so should generally be the first-line test.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e462-e469
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number684
Early online date27 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • blood plasma
  • blood tests
  • c-reactive protein
  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • primary care


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