Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation

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You may be able to manage chronic inflammation with medication and diet changes. Some foods, including leafy greens, nuts, and fruit, may help reduce inflammation in the body.

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Inflammation refers to your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it, like infections, injuries, and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself.

When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system.

This response includes the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as increased blood flow to the damaged area. In the case of acute inflammation — like getting a cut on your knee or dealing with a cold — the whole process usually lasts for few days.

Chronic inflammation happens when this response lingers, leaving your body in a constant state of alert. Over time, chronic inflammation may have a negative impact on your tissues and organs. Some researchTrusted Source suggests that chronic inflammation could also play a role in a range of conditions, from cancer to stroke.

What are the symptoms of chronic inflammation?

Acute inflammation often causes noticeable symptoms, like pain, redness, or swelling. But chronic inflammation symptoms are usually much more subtle. This makes them easy to overlook.

Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include:

These symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for several months or yearsTrusted Source.

What causes chronic inflammation?

Several things can cause chronic inflammation, including:

  • untreated causes of acute inflammation, like an infection or injury
  • an autoimmune disorder, which involves your immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue
  • long-term exposure to irritants, like industrial chemicals or polluted air

Keep in mind that these issues don’t cause chronic inflammation in everyone. In addition, some cases of chronic inflammation don’t have a clear underlying cause.

Experts also believe that a range of factors may also contribute to chronic inflammation, like:

How does chronic inflammation impact the body?

When you’re living with chronic inflammation, your body’s inflammatory response can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time, this can lead toTrusted Source tissue damage.

All of these are linked to the development of several diseases, including:

How is chronic inflammation diagnosed?

There are no real tests to diagnose inflammation on its own. C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood may indicate infection or inflammation in the body, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), may suggest inflammation of the heart.

However, there’s some debate over whether hsCRP is useful for heart health screening.

Many individuals don’t know they have chronic inflammation until they’re diagnosed with another condition. If you feel like you’re experiencing some of the common symptoms of chronic inflammation, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. They’ll know the first steps to take when it comes to a diagnosis.

How is chronic inflammation treated?

Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process. But when it becomes chronic, it’s important to try to get it under control to reduce your risk of long-term damage. Some of the options that’ve been explored for managing inflammation include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), effectively reduce inflammation and pain. But long-term use is linked to an increased risk of several conditions, including peptic ulcer disease and kidney disease.
  • Steroids. Corticosteroids are a type of steroid hormone. They decrease inflammation and suppress the immune system, which is helpful when it starts attacking healthy tissue. But long-term use of corticosteroids can lead to vision problems, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. When prescribing corticosteroids, your doctor will weigh the benefits and risks with you.
  • Supplements. Certain supplements may help to reduce inflammation. Fish oilTrusted Sourcelipoic acidTrusted Source, and curcuminTrusted Source have all been linked to decreased inflammation. Several spices may also help with chronic inflammation and inflammatory disease, including gingergarlic, and cayenne, but again, more research around optimal dosage and definitive statements need to be done.
  • Lifestyle changes. Losing weight (if your doctor recommends it), increasing physical activity, and making dietary changes (like a low glycemic diet and reduced saturated fat intake) have all been shownTrusted Source to help lower inflammation.

How does diet impact chronic inflammation?

What you eat can play both a positive and negative role in managing chronic inflammation.

Foods to eat

A variety of foods are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. These include foods that are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, like:

  • olive oil
  • leafy greens, like kale and spinach
  • tomatoes
  • fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • nuts
  • fruits, especially cherries, blueberries, and oranges

If your doctor or dietician has recommended you change your eating habits, consider talking with them about the Mediterranean diet. A 2018 studyTrusted Source found that participants following this diet had lower markers of inflammation. EvidenceTrusted Source also suggests a link between a plant-based diet and lower inflammation.

Foods to avoid

The following foods have been known to increase inflammation in some people:

  • refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pastries
  • fried foods, like French fries
  • processed meat, like hot dogs and sausage
  • red meat
  • sugar-sweetened beverages

If you’re trying to reduce chronic inflammation, your doctor may recommend you reduce your intake of these foods. You don’t have to completely eliminate them but try to eat them only occasionally.

The bottom line

Chronic inflammation can increase your risk of several serious diseases.

Medication, supplements, keeping stress levels low (when possible), exercise, and following a lower-inflammation diet may all help you reduce your risk of living with chronic inflammation — but before making any lifestyle changes, it’s always best to speak with your doctor.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose inflammation using blood tests. Or they may diagnose you with a condition that often accompanies chronic inflammation, like rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, or another autoimmune issue.

Source: Healthline.com