Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 18, 2023
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens or damaged cells. While acute inflammation serves as a defense mechanism, chronic inflammation is a persistent state that can cause a wide range of health problems.
But what is chronic inflammation? In this article, we will explore what chronic inflammation is, its underlying causes, its effects on the body, and available treatments.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is a long-standing and persistent state of inflammation in the body, which occurs in response to a variety of internal and external factors.
It is characterized by the continuous activation of the immune system, leading to the release of various signaling molecules and white blood cells that cause inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can last for months or even years, causing tissue damage and contributing to the development of various chronic diseases.
Chronic Inflammation vs Acute Inflammation
What is the difference between chronic and acute inflammation? Chronic inflammation and acute inflammation are two different types of inflammation that occur in response to different stimuli.
The main difference between the two is the duration and intensity of the inflammatory response.
Acute inflammation is a short-term response that occurs as a result of an injury or infection, and it is characterized by a rapid and intense immune system reaction. Acute inflammation is a natural and healthy process, as it helps to remove harmful stimuli and promote healing.
The symptoms of acute inflammation include redness, swelling, warmth, and pain, and they typically resolve once the underlying cause of inflammation has been addressed.
Chronic inflammation is a persistent state of inflammation that occurs in response to a variety of internal and external factors. This condition can last for months or even years and can contribute to the development of various chronic diseases.
Signs & Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can cause a wide range of signs and symptoms, some of which may be subtle and not immediately noticeable. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation include:
- Fatigue and weakness: Chronic inflammation can cause fatigue and weakness, making it difficult to perform daily activities.
- Pain: You may experience joint pain, muscle aches, and headaches.
- Swelling: You may notice an uptick in swelling in various parts of the body, such as the joints.
- Redness: There may be redness in the affected areas caused by an increase in blood flow.
- Weight gain: Chronic inflammation can cause weight gain, especially in the abdominal area.
- Digestive issues: You could potentially experience digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation.
- Mood changes: You may feel mood changes, such as depression and anxiety.
- Sleep disturbances: Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and restless sleep, may become more common.
- Skin problems: Chronic inflammation can cause skin problems, such as rashes and eczema.
Not all individuals with chronic inflammation will experience all of these symptoms, and the severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person.
How do you test for chronic inflammation?
Several tests can be used to diagnose chronic inflammation, including:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can measure the levels of certain markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and interleukin-6 (IL-6), in the bloodstream. Elevated levels of these markers indicate chronic inflammation.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, and CT scans, can be used to visualize any signs of inflammation in the body, such as joint swelling or the presence of tumors.
- Biopsy: A biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is taken from the affected area and analyzed, can be used to diagnose chronic inflammation in specific organs, such as the liver or lungs.
- Rheumatoid factor (RF) test: This blood test can detect the presence of RF, a protein that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: This blood test can detect the presence of ANA, a type of antibody that is associated with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
A single test rarely diagnoses chronic inflammation with 100% accuracy. A combination of tests, along with a thorough physical examination and medical history, is often used to make a diagnosis.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
What causes inflammation? Chronic inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Poor diet: A diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
- Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity.
- Exposure to environmental toxins: Environmental toxin exposure, such as air pollution, chemicals, and cigarette smoke.
- Chronic stress: Prolonged stress can trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can cause chronic inflammation.
- Infections: Chronic infections, such as periodontitis, helicobacter pylori, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are caused by an overactive immune system that attacks healthy cells.
- Obesity: Obesity can cause chronic inflammation, especially in abdominal fat. Learn more about inflammation and weight gain.
- Smoking: Smoking can cause chronic inflammation in various parts of the body, such as the lungs and blood vessels.
Different individuals may have different causes of chronic inflammation, and it may be a combination of factors.
Chronic Inflammatory Diseases
Several chronic inflammatory diseases could arise given unchecked and prolonged inflammation, including:
- Cancer: Chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and mutations, which can lead to the development of cancer.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: A chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation in the joints and other parts of the body.
- Lupus: A chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation in various parts of the body.
- Crohn’s Disease: A chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract.
- Ulcerative Colitis: A chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulceration in the inner lining of the colon and rectum.
- Psoriasis: A chronic inflammatory skin condition exemplified by red, scaly patches on the skin due to an overactive immune response.
- Multiple Sclerosis: A chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.
- Asthma: A chronic respiratory illness involving the inflammation and constricting of the airways.
- Heart Disease: Chronic inflammation can contribute to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, a process known as atherosclerosis.
- Type 2 Diabetes: A chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance and inflammation in the pancreas.
- Gout: A chronic metabolic disorder characterized by sudden and severe attacks of joint pain and inflammation due to high levels of uric acid in the blood.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): A chronic respiratory disease characterized by inflammation and damage to the airways and lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
How Is Chronic Inflammation Treated?
There are two primary ways to treat chronic inflammation in the body: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroid injections.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs help to relieve chronic inflammation by blocking prostaglandins production, which are compounds that promote inflammation and pain. By blocking the construction of prostaglandins, NSAIDs help to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation in the affected area.
Common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. However, long-term use of NSAIDs can have adverse side effects.
Steroid injections are a type of anti-inflammatory treatment that can help to relieve chronic inflammation. They work by reducing the production of inflammation-causing chemicals in the body and suppressing the immune response.
Steroid injections are usually given directly into the affected joint or tissue and can provide quick and effective relief from pain and swelling. They are commonly used to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and bursitis.
It’s important to note, neither option is a cure for chronic inflammation. They do not address the underlying cause of the condition. If you have chronic inflammation, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
How to Treat Chronic Inflammation Naturally
There are several ways to reduce inflammation and get natural pain relief. Here are the most common and effective strategies for long-term success.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Several foods are thought to contribute to chronic inflammation and should be limited or avoided. Some of these inflammatory foods include:
- Fried foods: Most fried foods, especially those cooked in partially hydrogenated oils, can contribute to inflammation.
- Red and processed meats: Processed meats and red meat, such as hot dogs and sausages, are loaded with saturated fat and can increase inflammation in the body.
- Alcohol: Consuming too much alcohol can increase inflammation in the body. Learn more about alcohol and inflammation.
- Refined carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and rice can lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar levels and insulin.
- Sugar and high fructose corn syrup: Sugar and inflammation go hand in hand. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar and HFCS can promote inflammation.
- Dairy products: There is a link between dairy and inflammation. Avoid high-fat dairy products in favor of low-fat products.
Switch to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is a way of eating that focuses on reducing inflammation in the body through food choices. The key components of an anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Fruits and vegetables: This food group is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Whole grains: Most whole grains are a good source of fiber and provide important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc.
- Lean proteins: Fish, poultry, and plant-based proteins are recommended as they are less likely to contribute to inflammation compared to red meat.
- Healthy fats: Foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds are good sources of healthy fats that can help to reduce inflammation.
- Herbs and Spices: Herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon contain anti-inflammatory substances that help to decrease inflammation throughout the body.
An anti-inflammatory diet can be beneficial for those who suffer from chronic inflammation or autoimmune conditions, as well as for those looking to maintain overall health and prevent chronic disease.
Make Lifestyle Modifications
Besides eliminating the obvious items such as inflammatory foods, alcohol, and tobacco, here are some other lifestyle changes that can help reduce inflammation naturally:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can reduce inflammation and promote overall health. Shoot for at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for reducing inflammation. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Stress management: Prolonged stress can contribute to inflammation, so finding healthy strategies to manage stress is important. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can be helpful.
- Environmental exposure: Chronic exposure to environmental toxins such as pollutants and pesticides can contribute to inflammation. Minimizing exposure to these toxins and maintaining a clean and healthy living environment can help.
- Weight management: Being overweight (obese) is a risk factor for inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular physical activity and other healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce inflammation.
Use Dietary Supplements
There are also several natural supplements you can use to fight inflammation. Here are three of the best anti-inflammatory supplements.
Turmeric is a spice commonly used in traditional Indian medicine that has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to help reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body and modulate immune system function.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy for inflammation that has been touted for its antioxidant properties. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar has been shown to help reduce inflammation by limiting the creation of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. Additionally, apple cider vinegar may help to improve gut health, which is important in managing chronic inflammation.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry is a superfruit commonly used in natural medicine that has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry’s active compounds, flavonoids, and anthocyanins have been shown to help reduce inflammation by modulating the immune system response and blocking the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Chronic Inflammation: Final Thoughts
Chronic inflammation is a persistent state that can have a significant impact on the body and overall health. By understanding its causes, effects, symptoms, and treatment options, individuals can take steps to manage this condition and reduce its impact on their lives.
If basic lifestyle modifications don’t work, it’s important to work with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan to best manage chronic inflammation in the body.