Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 18, 2023
Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system that helps to protect the body from injury and infection. While acute inflammation is a short-term and localized response, systemic inflammation affects the whole body and can lead to a wide range of symptoms and health issues.
But what is systemic inflammation? In this article, we will explore what systemic inflammation is, what causes it, how it affects the body, and what treatment options are available. By understanding the underlying mechanisms of systemic inflammation, we can better prevent and manage the many health issues associated with this condition.
What Is Systemic Inflammation?
Systemic inflammation is a type of inflammation that affects the whole body. It is a complex process that involves the activation of the immune system and the release of inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines and chemokines, into the bloodstream.
Systemic inflammation can be triggered by a variety of factors, including infections, injuries, and chronic diseases, and it can lead to a wide range of symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and muscle aches.
It is an important mechanism that helps the body to fight off infections and repair damaged tissues. However, when systemic inflammation becomes chronic, it can contribute to the development of many health issues.
Systemic Inflammation vs Acute Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a short-term, localized response to injury, infection, or tissue damage. It is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, and pain in the affected area, and it is a crucial process for the body’s healing and repair mechanisms.
The purpose of acute inflammation is to eliminate the cause of injury or infection and initiate the tissue repair process. Once the underlying cause of inflammation has been addressed, the acute inflammatory response typically resolves within a few days.
Summary of Differences: Acute inflammation is a short-term, localized response to injury or infection. Systemic inflammation is a more widespread and long-lasting inflammatory response that affects the entire body.
Systemic Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a low-grade, long-lasting inflammatory response that is localized to a specific tissue or organ. It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as infections, exposure to toxins, autoimmune disorders, or lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress.
Chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and the development of chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis.
Summary of Differences: Chronic inflammation is a low-grade, long-lasting inflammatory response that is localized to a specific tissue or organ. Systemic inflammation is a widespread and long-lasting inflammatory response that affects the entire body.
Signs & Symptoms of Systemic Inflammation
What are the symptoms of systemic inflammation? Systemic inflammation can cause a variety of signs and symptoms that can be vague and non-specific, making it difficult to diagnose. However, some common signs and symptoms of systemic inflammation include:
- Fever: A higher-than-normal body temperature is a common sign of systemic inflammation.
- Fatigue: Systemic inflammation can cause a general feeling of tiredness, weakness, and lack of energy.
- Muscle and joint pain: Systemic inflammation can cause muscle and joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.
- Loss of appetite: Systemic inflammation can affect the digestive system and cause a loss of appetite or nausea.
- Headaches: A systemic inflammatory response can contribute to headaches and migraines.
- Skin rashes: Systemic inflammation can cause skin rashes, hives, and other skin irritations.
- Difficulty sleeping: You may experience reduced sleep quality, causing insomnia or other sleep disorders.
- Mood changes: Whole-body inflammation can cause mood changes, including depression, anxiety, and irritability.
These symptoms can be caused by a variety of underlying health conditions. It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms to determine the underlying cause of your inflammation.
How do you test for systemic inflammation?
What blood tests show inflammation? Several tests can be used to detect and measure systemic inflammation in the body. Some common tests for systemic inflammation include:
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) test: This blood test measures the level of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, in the bloodstream. Elevated levels of hs-CRP may indicate systemic inflammation.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test: This blood test measures the rate at which red blood cells settle in a test tube. Higher rates may indicate the presence of inflammation.
- Complete blood count (CBC) test: This blood test measures the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in the bloodstream. Abnormal levels of these cells may indicate an underlying condition associated with inflammation.
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE) test: This blood test measures the level of IgE, an antibody associated with allergies and inflammation.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to detect inflammation in specific tissues or organs.
It is important to note that these tests can only provide an indication of the presence and extent of inflammation in the body, and further testing may be necessary to determine the underlying cause of the inflammation.
What Causes Systemic Inflammation?
What is the most common cause of systemic inflammation? Systemic inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Infections: Systemic inflammation can be triggered by infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms.
- Injury: Physical injury or trauma can cause systemic inflammation as the body responds to tissue damage.
- Chronic diseases: Chronic diseases such as autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and obesity can cause systemic inflammation.
- Exposure to toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, or industrial chemicals can trigger systemic inflammation.
- Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can contribute to systemic inflammation.
- Stress: Chronic stress can lead to increased levels of stress hormones and inflammation in the body.
- Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to systemic inflammation.
- Genetics: Some individuals may have genetic predispositions that make them more susceptible to whole-body inflammation.
Systemic inflammation can be caused by a combination of these factors, and the underlying cause of inflammation can vary from person to person.
Systemic Inflammatory Diseases
What are examples of systemic inflammation? Systemic inflammatory diseases are a group of conditions that are characterized by chronic, widespread inflammation throughout the body.
These diseases can affect multiple organs and systems, and they are often caused by dysregulation of the immune system. Some common examples of systemic inflammatory diseases include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the joints and causes pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): An autoimmune disorder that can affect multiple organs and systems, including the skin, joints, kidneys, and nervous system.
- Psoriasis: A chronic skin disorder that causes inflammation, scaling, and redness of the skin.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): A group of conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Vasculitis: A group of disorders that cause inflammation of the blood vessels, which can lead to damage of various organs.
- Sjogren’s syndrome: An autoimmune disorder that causes dry eyes and mouth, and can also affect other organs such as the kidneys and lungs.
- Multiple sclerosis: A chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system and can cause a wide range of symptoms, including muscle weakness, fatigue, and difficulty with coordination.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): A group of lung diseases that are characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
How Is Systemic Inflammation Treated?
The treatment for systemic inflammation depends on the underlying cause of the inflammation. Some common treatments for systemic inflammation include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can be used to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. Learn more about anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Immunomodulators: Medications that modify the immune system can be used to treat underlying autoimmune disorders that may be causing systemic inflammation.
- Treatment of underlying infections or other health conditions: Treating underlying infections or other health conditions that may be contributing to inflammation is an important part of managing systemic inflammation.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or repair damage caused by chronic inflammation.
How to Treat Systemic Inflammation Naturally
How do you get rid of systemic inflammation? Here are the four best ways to reduce inflammation in the body and get natural pain relief.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Several foods are known to promote inflammation in the body, and reducing or avoiding these foods may help to reduce systemic inflammation. Some common inflammatory foods to avoid include:
- Processed and fried foods: These foods can contain high levels of unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, and additives that can trigger inflammation.
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: Sweeteners like added sugar can contribute to inflammation and have been linked to several chronic diseases.
- Red meat and processed meats: These meats contain high levels of saturated fats and can promote inflammation in the body.
- Refined grains: Refined grains such as white bread, pasta, and rice have been stripped of their nutrients and fiber, and can contribute to inflammation.
- Dairy products: Some people may be sensitive to dairy products, which can cause inflammation in the body.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to inflammation and damage to the liver and other organs.
Switch to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
This type of diet emphasizes eating whole, nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods. Some key components of an anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Fruits and vegetables: These foods are rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Aim to consume a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day.
- Whole grains: Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat are rich in fiber, which can help to reduce inflammation.
- Lean protein: Choose lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, and legumes, which are rich in nutrients and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Healthy fats: Foods that contain healthy fats, such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, can help to reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
- Herbs and spices: Many anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic, can be added to meals.
Make Lifestyle Modifications
Besides simple dietary modifications, several lifestyle changes can help to reduce systemic inflammation. Some common lifestyle modifications that may be beneficial include:
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and boost the immune system.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation and have negative effects on overall health. Find ways to manage stress.
- Get enough sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased inflammation in the body. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a major contributor to systemic inflammation and can increase the risk of many chronic diseases.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is a significant contributor to systemic inflammation. Learn more about the link between weight gain and inflammation.
Use Dietary Supplements
To take things a step further, here are three of the best supplements for inflammation that you can add to your daily routine.
Curcumin, a key component of turmeric, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory effects. Research suggests that curcumin may help to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the activity of enzymes and molecules that promote inflammation in the body.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
The anti-inflammatory properties of apple cider vinegar are attributed to acetic acid, which has been found to reduce the activity of inflammatory enzymes. In addition, the antioxidant properties of apple cider vinegar can help to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry contains anthocyanins and flavonoids, which have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds are believed to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the action of pro-inflammatory molecules and by enhancing the activity of anti-inflammatory molecules.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Systemic Inflammation: Final Thoughts
Systemic inflammation is a complex process that can affect the entire body and lead to a range of health issues. It is often triggered by infections, injuries, and chronic diseases, and it can be exacerbated by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress.
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available to help manage inflammation to reduce the likelihood of developing a systemic inflammatory disease, including medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies.
By addressing the underlying causes of systemic inflammation and working with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan, individuals can reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases and improve their overall health and well-being.