CPK Blood Test: What Does It Mean If You Have High CPK Levels?

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CPK Blood Test: What Does It Mean If You Have High CPK Levels?

A CPK blood test checks for levels of creatine phosphokinase (or, creatine kinase) in the blood. Creatine enzymes are released from muscles or tissues if they are injured, damaged, or die off. High CPK levels can mean that a tissue has been damaged due to a person suffering a heart attack, stroke, or head injury. Elevated CPK levels in a blood test could also show up if a person has hypothyroidism, takes statins for a long time, or has an autoimmune condition.

Doctors usually arrange for a CPK blood test in an emergency situation, for example after a suspected heart attack to identify the extent of muscle damage. However, CPK levels can also be higher than normal because of strenuous exercise and inflammation of the muscles. Specific CPK lab tests can also be used to identify if muscle or tissue damage is in the heart, brain, or skeletal muscles.


In this article, you will find out what it means if your lab test results show high CPK levels. Of course, your doctor will run more tests to diagnose the underlying reasons for creatine kinase that is at abnormal levels. You will also learn about ways to keep your heart, bones, and brain function healthy to prevent health issues that can cause CPK levels to rise above normal.

What Is CPK Blood Test?

Testing for high CPK levels in a blood test is an important way for doctors to evaluate muscle damage in the body.

Researchers from the University of Rochester say that creatine kinase (CK) are proteins in your body’s cells that keep cells functioning properly. Damage to muscles or tissue will result in these enzymes being released into the blood and they will show up in a CPK test.1

Doctors will usually check for abnormal creatine kinase levels if a person shows signs of a heart attack. However, the CPK blood test can also be used to help diagnose reasons for muscular disorders (e.g. muscular dystrophy), chronic muscle pain, or inflammation of the muscles.1

The CPK blood test usually shows total levels of creatine kinase in the blood, as well as percentages of isoenzymes that can help to identify where damage has occurred. The book Clinical Methods says that these blood tests for CK are broken down into 3 parts, as follows:2

  • CK-MM. Generally, higher than normal CK-MM levels show up after cardiac muscle damage, skeletal damage, muscle inflammation, or a muscle disorder.
  • CK-MB. This enzyme is found in the heart muscle and is usually elevated after a heart attack. This can also help doctors predict the risk of a second heart attack. High CK-MB levels also show up in a blood test if there are other reasons for damage to the heart.
  • CK-BB. This is a brain-specific enzyme that produces elevated CK levels if the brain has suffered any injury. This could be due to an accident or fall, stroke, inflammation of the brain, or severe shock.

What Are Normal CPK Levels?

It’s important to remember that blood test results usually show up some amount of creatine kinase in serum. This is because your body is constantly replacing and renewing dead cells.

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According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, males tend to have normal CPK levels that are higher than females. This is due to men having more muscle mass than women. The normal CPK range is measured in units per liter (U/L) and is as follows:3

  • Normal CPK range for males. Between 39 and 308 U/L.
  • Normal CPK range for females. Between 26 and 192 U/L.

Because your age, health history, physical activity levels, and race can affect normal CPK results, your doctor will diagnose what your CPK blood test results mean for you.

Elevated CPK – What Causes High CPK Levels?

Let’s look in more detail at what abnormal CPK levels can mean and how doctors can interpret the results.

Heart attack

CPK levels can be excessively high if a person has suffered a heart attack which has resulted in muscle damage to the heart.

The Western Journal of Medicine reports that higher than normal CPK-MB levels usually show up after an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). This high creatine kinase levels can also give doctors an indication of the extent of muscle damage and recommend the best course of treatment.3

A doctor may also check for abnormal CPK levels if you have symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Health conditions like blocked arteries, severe stress, and high blood pressure can put extra strain on your heart and cause damage to the muscle tissue. Some warning symptoms of heart disease can include:4

At the end of this article, you will find out ways to help you keep your heart healthy and prevent developing cardiac disease.

Myocarditis

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle and will also cause CPK lab tests to show higher than normal results.

Doctors report that any abnormalities in the heart muscle like inflammation or damage will cause CPK serum levels to rise.2

The most common reason for myocarditis is a viral or bacterial infection that can cause inflammation in the heart muscle. Dr. James Beckerman, an expert in cardiovascular health at St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, says that myocarditis is rarely fatal. However, it can cause worrying symptoms like:5

Head injury

Any kind of head injury or damage to your brain tissue can elevate blood levels of creatine kinase.

The Journal of Neurosurgery reported that severe head injuries can cause higher than normal levels of CK and CK-BB in blood tests. Testing for high CPK levels in a blood test can help doctors determine the severity of the head injury and therefore recommend the best course of treatment.6

Stroke

Doctors may check for creatine kinase levels that are above the normal range if they suspect that a person has had a stroke.

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Various blood tests can help doctors determine brain and tissue damage after a stroke. The journal Stroke reports that stroke sufferers often have elevated CK levels. By testing for levels of troponin (protein that is usually elevated after a heart attack) doctors can identify the possibility that it was stroke and not cardiac-related issue.7

Other reports suggest that the high levels of CK in blood serum after a stroke can help to determine the best way to treat patients who had recently suffered a stroke.8

There are many positive lifestyle changes you can make to prevent suffering from a stroke. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and avoiding habits that can damage your brain are just some practical suggestions.

Electric shock

An electric shock can cause muscle and skeletal damage that can result in high CPK which can indicate the severity of tissue or muscle damage.

The Journal of Medicine and Life reports that electrocution can result in massive muscle and organ damage and even be fatal. Doctors regularly take blood tests to check for creatine kinase levels to monitor muscle damage in electrical injuries.9

Hypothyroidism

CK levels that are too high could mean that you suffer from a thyroid disorder where your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones.

An underactive thyroid means that levels of thyroid hormone in your body are too low. This can impact on skeletal muscle function and cause tissue to release CK enzymes into the blood. The journal Hormone Research reported that severe hypothyroidism is connected with high CPK levels. Monitoring creatine kinase in blood tests can help doctors determine the best treatment for hypothyroidism.10

There are many ways that you can help to control an underactive thyroid naturally, although medication is usually necessary to treat thyroid conditions.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Increased CPK is often seen in lab test results in people who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are inflammatory conditions that can affect your digestive tract. According to the journal Clinical Chemistry, CPK levels are often elevated if you had chronic inflammation of the gut caused by ulcerative colitis. This can cause higher than normal CK-MB results in a blood test.11

Inflammatory bowel disease also causes many uncomfortable symptoms in your digestive tract. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that some common symptoms of a digestive system that doesn’t work properly can include:12

Normal childbirth

During childbirth, it is normal that CPK levels are much higher than normal due to muscle and tissue damage during labor.

The reason that doctors may check for high CPK levels is that chest pain or discomfort during labor are often mistaken for a heart attack. During labor, creatine kinase is released by the placenta and uterus which cause CK-MB levels to rise significantly. Even though the isoenzyme CK-MB is associated with heart damage, doctors have found that understanding the normal patterns of these enzymes in the serum during labor, prevent misdiagnosis of heart related issues.13

Use of statins

The long-term use of statins can mean that your blood test results show elevated CPK levels due to muscle damage that statins can cause.

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The Muscle, Ligaments, and Tendons Journal reported that the breakdown of muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis) can happen with using statins for a long period of time. The muscle damage is caused because statins are used to lower cholesterol, which is needed to build skeletal muscle. Statins can also cause a coenzyme Q10 deficiency that also affects muscle tissue.14

High levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can lead to blocked arteries and heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to lower your cholesterol naturally before you may need to use statins to control cholesterol.

Intense exercise

One of the causes of elevated CPK results in a lab test is intense exercise. This is nothing to worry about because high CPK levels will return to the normal range after finishing exercising.

The journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International reported that higher than normal CK levels are generally seen in professional or competitive athletes. Also, strength and speed exercises may cause more creatine kinase enzymes in the blood. However, because CPK levels are consistently high in athletes, it can be difficult for doctors to use CPK markers to diagnose other health conditions.15

Autoimmune conditions

A CPK blood test that shows persistently high levels of creatine kinase could be an indicator of an autoimmune condition.

Polymyositis is an uncommon autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the muscles resulting in inflammation and the release of creatine phosphokinase (CPK). The main symptom of polymyositis is muscle weakness that develops slowly. The muscle weakness usually first occurs in the hip, thigh, and shoulder areas.

According to Dr. Mythili Seetharaman, Consultant Rheumatologist, creatine kinase (CK) levels are usually elevated in persons with polymyositis, ranging from 5-50 times the reference range.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine say that CK-MB levels are often elevated when there is muscle inflammation due to conditions like lupus. However, doctors will need to rule out the possibility that high CPK is due to heart-related conditions.16

Muscular dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic diseases that typically affects male children and will cause high CPK levels due to muscle loss.

Doctors run CPK blood tests if a person complains of symptoms relating to muscle weakness. The American Journal of Medical Genetics says that high CK-MB levels can help identify males who are at risk of the disease.17 Usually, the first signs of muscle damage are falling frequently, trouble running or jumping, muscle pain, and learning difficulties.18

Treatment for High CPK Levels

Usually, treatment for elevated CPK levels that are significantly higher than the normal CPK level range depends on treating the underlying cause. However, there are many steps you can take to keep your body healthy and prevent medical conditions that can increase creatine kinase in your blood.

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Keep your heart healthy

Because high CPK levels are often associated with heart disease and heart attacks, it’s important to keep your heart in good health. Here are some of the best ways that you can prevent cardiac-related health issues.

Regular exercise. Getting more exercise is one of the simple ways you can prevent a heart attack. The journal Circulation reports that getting enough regular exercise can help to reduce your risk of heart attack and increase survival rates in the case of a heart attack. Exercise can reduce levels of bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower insulin resistance.19

Consume more garlic. Garlic has many beneficial properties that can help to keep your heart healthy. The Journal of Nutrition reported in 2016 that garlic supplements can provide cardiovascular protection by lowering cholesterol and hypertension levels.20

Change your diet. One way to protect the health of your heart and keep CPK levels within normal range is to switch to a Mediterranean diet. The European Journal of Nutrition reported that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and oily fish can help to boost the heart’s health. It was found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet were at less risk of heart disease.21

Reducing stress. There are a number of ways that stress has a negative impact on the health of your heart. The American Heart Foundation reports that stress increases blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and causes rapid a heartbeat. Stress can also lead to other lifestyle choices like over drinking, binge eating, and smoking that negatively affect the heart.22

Avoid strenuous exercise before a blood test

If you have to give a blood test, then it may be a good idea to avoid strenuous exercising in the days beforehand.

The journal Medicine reports that vigorous physical activity in the 3 days before a blood test can cause high CPK levels. This could result in elevated levels of creatine kinase in blood serum when, in fact, there was no underlying medical condition.23

Omega-3 supplements

Another way to keep your heart healthy and prevent inflammatory conditions in the body is to consume more omega-3 in your diet or take omega-3 supplements.

According to research published by the University of California, omega-3 can help reduce the symptoms of a number of inflammatory diseases. Scientists have found that omega-3 can help prevent and address the symptoms of diseases that cause high CPK levels. Some of these are:24

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Reduce the risk of heart attack
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Certain autoimmune conditions

Please read my article on the amazing health benefits of omega 3 fish oil for more information on how to boost your health.

Lycopene

Lycopene is a compound found in tomatoes that has antioxidant properties and can help keep your heart healthy.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that tomato products can help to prevent cardiovascular disease and also reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.25 Also, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported that tomato-based products or lycopene supplements could help reduce your risk of stroke.26

The good thing about lycopene is that unlike many other components, it is not destroyed in cooking. In fact, you can find more lycopene in cooked tomatoes than fresh ones. In addition, lycopene is dissolved in fat, and adding olive oil, for example, will help its absorption in the body. For more benefits of consuming more tomatoes in your diet, please read my article on how tomatoes can help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Read my other related articles:

Medical References

  1. URMC. Creatine kinase with isoenzymes.
  2. NCBI. Creatine kinase.
  3. MayoMedicalLaboratories. Test ID: CK.
  4. West J Med. 1977 Dec; 127(6): 455–460.
  5. WebMD. Myocarditis.
  6. J Neuorsur. 1983 May; 58(5):689-692.
  7. J Neuorsur. 1983 May; 58(5):689-692.
  8. Arch Gerontol Geriatr.1985 Jul;4(2):163-7.
  9. J Med Life. 2014 Jun 15; 7(2): 226–236.
  10. Horm Res.1999;52(4):205-8.
  11. Clin Chem.1994 Jul;40(7 Pt 1):1278-83.
  12. MayoClinic. Inflammatory bowel disease.
  13. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand.1996 Mar;75(3):255-60.
  14. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 303–312.
  15. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016 May; 113(19): 344.
  16. HopkinsPlus. Creatine phosphokinase.
  17. Am J Med Genet.1985 Sep;22(1):81-7.
  18. MayoClinic. Muscular dystrophy.
  19. Circulation. 2003;107:e2-e5.
  20. J Nutr.2016 Feb;146(2):416S-421S.
  21. Eur J Nutr.2017 Nov 25.
  22. HeartOrg. Stress and heart health.
  23. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Aug; 95(33): e4344.
  24. Calif Agric (Berkeley). 2011 July-September; 65(3): 106–111.
  25. Am J Clin Nutr.2000 Jun;71(6 Suppl):1691S-5S; discussion 1696S-7S.
  26. HealthHarvard. Lycopene-rich tomatoes linked to lower stroke risk.
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