Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 19, 2023
Inflammation is a complex process that occurs in the body as a response to injury or infection. While acute inflammation is a normal and necessary part of the body’s defense mechanism, chronic inflammation can lead to a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Understanding the signs of inflammation in the body is an important step in managing and preventing these health issues.
In this article, we will discuss the five cardinal signs of inflammation and provide tips on how to address them naturally. Whether you are dealing with a specific health issue or simply want to optimize your overall health, recognizing and addressing inflammation in the body is crucial.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a complex biological response that involves a coordinated interplay of immune cells, signaling molecules, and vascular tissues in response to injury, infection, or other stimuli. It is characterized by a cascade of events that leads to the accumulation of immune cells at the site of injury or infection, resulting in the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines.
The acute inflammatory response is tightly regulated and is necessary for the resolution of infection or tissue repair, but chronic inflammation can contribute to a wide range of pathological conditions.
Acute Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation
Acute and chronic inflammation are the two primary types of inflammation. Each is unique with its signs, symptoms, and causes of inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a short-term and localized response of the body’s immune system to injury, infection, or other stimuli. It is characterized by the classic signs of redness, swelling, heat, and pain, and typically lasts a few hours to a few days. Acute inflammation helps the body fight off infections and repair damaged tissues.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a long-term and systemic inflammatory response that can last for months or years. It is characterized by the continuous activation of the immune system, which can result in tissue damage and contribute to the development of a variety of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
What are the 5 classic signs of inflammation? Let’s take a look at each in detail.
1. Redness (rubor)
Redness is one of the classic signs of inflammation and is caused by an increase in blood flow to the affected area. When there is an injury or infection, the immune system responds by releasing signaling molecules that cause the blood vessels in the affected area to dilate, which allows more blood to flow to the area. The increased blood flow causes the area to become red.
This increased blood flow also helps to bring immune cells to the area to fight off the infection or repair tissue damage. While redness is a normal part of the acute inflammatory response, prolonged redness can be a sign of chronic inflammation and may be an indication of an underlying health condition.
How to Treat Redness
The treatment for redness depends on the underlying cause of inflammation. If it’s due to an injury, applying a cool compress or taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help reduce redness. If redness is due to an inflammatory skin condition, topical treatments such as corticosteroids, creams, or ointments may be prescribed.
2. Swelling (tumour)
Swelling, also known as edema, is another cardinal sign of inflammation. It is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the affected tissue, which can be triggered by increased blood flow and the leakage of plasma proteins from the blood vessels. This fluid accumulation causes the affected area to become swollen and puffy, which can sometimes interfere with normal tissue function.
Swelling is a normal part of the acute inflammatory response and is important for delivering immune cells and nutrients to the site of injury or infection. However, excessive or chronic swelling can lead to tissue damage and contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.
How to Treat Swelling
If you want to know how to reduce swelling, it’s important to start by resting the affected area and keeping it elevated above the level of the heart. Applying a cold compress or ice pack for 15-20 minutes every hour can also help. Compression bandages can be applied to reduce swelling, but they should not be too tight. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can also help reduce swelling.
3. Heat (calor)
Heat, or warmth, is another classic sign of inflammation. It occurs due to the increased blood flow to the affected area. When there is an injury or infection, the body releases signaling molecules that enlarge the blood vessels in the affected area, allowing more blood to flow to the region. The increased blood flow causes the area to become warm to the touch.
The heat associated with inflammation is also a normal part of the acute inflammatory response, as it helps to increase blood flow to the affected area, which in turn helps to deliver immune cells and nutrients to fight off the infection or repair tissue damage. However, chronic inflammation can lead to persistent warmth and can contribute to the development of chronic diseases.
How to Treat Heat
To reduce heat, applying a cool compress or ice pack can be helpful. Taking a cool shower or bath, or using a fan to circulate cool air can also help. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin can also help reduce heat.
4. Pain (dolor)
Pain is another cardinal sign of inflammation, and it occurs due to the release of chemicals called cytokines and chemokines that sensitize nerve endings in the affected area. These chemicals cause the nerve endings to fire, sending pain signals to the brain, which are perceived as pain.
Pain is a typical part of the acute inflammatory response, as it helps to alert us to the presence of injury or infection and encourages us to protect and rest the affected area to allow it to heal. But, chronic inflammation can lead to persistent pain, which can significantly impact the quality of life and contribute to the development of chronic conditions.
How to Treat Pain
Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or pain relievers like acetaminophen can help reduce pain. Applying heat or cold therapy can also be effective, depending on the underlying cause of inflammation. For joint pain, gentle exercise and physical therapy may also be helpful.
5. Loss of Function (functio laesa)
Loss of function is another classic sign of inflammation that can occur when the inflammation is severe or affects an area of the body that is critical for movement or other important functions. It can be caused by swelling, pain, or tissue damage, and can lead to decreased mobility or limited ability to perform tasks that would normally be easy.
Inflammation that causes loss of function is typically associated with more severe or chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the joints become swollen, painful, and stiff, making it difficult to move them. Other conditions such as chronic back pain, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause loss of function due to inflammation.
How to Treat Loss of Function
Resting the affected area and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition can help reduce loss of function. Physical therapy or other exercises can help improve function, and in some cases, surgery may be necessary to restore full function.
Additional Signs and Symptoms
In addition to the classic signs of inflammation, several other symptoms can be associated with inflammation, including:
- Fatigue: Chronic inflammation can cause fatigue or malaise, which can be a result of the immune system working hard to fight off the inflammation.
- Fever: Inflammation can cause a fever as the body’s natural response to infection or injury.
- Headaches: Inflammation can cause headaches, which can be due to the release of inflammatory mediators that affect the nervous system.
- Joint pain: Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint pain and stiffness, which can be a result of chronic inflammation.
- Muscle stiffness: Inflammation can cause muscle soreness and stiffness, which can be a result of immune cells attacking muscle tissue.
- Loss of appetite: Chronic inflammation can cause a loss of appetite or nausea, which can be due to the release of cytokines that affect the digestive system.
- Depression: Systemic inflammation has been linked to depression, which may be due to the effects of inflammatory cytokines on the brain.
- Difficulty sleeping: Prolonged inflammation can cause difficulty sleeping or insomnia, which can be a result of the effects of inflammatory compounds on the sleep cycle.
- Reduced cognitive function: Chronic inflammation has been associated with reduced cognitive function, which may be linked to the effects of inflammatory cytokines on the brain.
How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
There are many effective ways to lower inflammation and relieve pain naturally. If you don’t know how to reduce inflammation, here are the four best places to start.
- Avoiding inflammatory foods: Limit your intake of processed foods, sugar, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and other foods that cause inflammation.
- Following an anti-inflammatory diet: Incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
- Making changes to your lifestyle: This includes getting regular exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep, which can all help to reduce inflammation.
- Taking herbal supplements: Some anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric, ginger, and garlic have been shown to help inflammation and can be consumed as supplements or added to your meals.
To elaborate further on supplements, here are three of the most effective anti-inflammatory supplements you can start with.
Turmeric has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of curcumin, which blocks the pathways involved in inflammation and reduces the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body. Additionally, curcumin has antioxidant effects that can help in protecting the body from free radicals, which are known to cause inflammation.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Acetic acid works by blocking the activity of inflammatory enzymes in the body and reducing the production of inflammatory cytokines. Additionally, it may help to alkalize the body, which can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry contains anthocyanins, flavonoids, and other antioxidants that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds work by reducing the production of inflammatory cytokines and blocking the activity of inflammatory enzymes in the body. Additionally, elderberry may help to boost the immune system, which can also help to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Cardinal Signs of Inflammation: Final Thoughts
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to a wide range of health problems. Recognizing the cardinal signs of inflammation in the body is an important step in managing and preventing these health issues.
By following the tips provided in this article, including eating an anti-inflammatory diet, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and taking natural supplements, you can help keep inflammation in check and support optimal health. If you are experiencing any of the signs of inflammation discussed in this article, we recommend consulting with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.