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Understanding Chronic Inflammation: Symptoms and Treatments

Many people think of inflammation as redness and swelling from cuts or other injuries. It is, however, more complex and potentially harmful than many realize. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can seriously impact one's health and is even associated with specific diseases and medical conditions.

What is Inflammation?

When the body is subject to biological, chemical, or physical threats, such as disease, toxins, or injury, it attempts to protect and heal itself by releasing chemicals. These chemicals then alert the immune system. The immune system responds by releasing white blood cells and cytokines that trap and attack the threat and start the healing process in injured tissue. This response is called inflammation. Inflammation can be acute or chronic. Acute reactions to sudden damage often last only several weeks. Chronic inflammation means that the response continues even after the threat is gone.

What are the Symptoms?

People who suffer from chronic inflammation can experience a range of symptoms that vary in severity, from mild to extreme. A person may experience either weight gain or unexpected weight loss. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, and other gastrointestinal issues. Some may experience anxiety and depression. Chronic inflammation is also associated with body pains, such as joint stiffness and muscle pain, fatigue, dry eyes, and frequent infections.

Chronic inflammation symptoms are often less evident than those associated with acute inflammation and are harder for people to spot. Signs of acute infection include redness, pain, heat, and swelling.

It's important to note that not everyone experiences the same inflammation symptoms. Always check with your doctor if you think you have any signs and get an official diagnosis. 

What are Some of the Causes of Chronic Inflammation?

Many factors can cause chronic inflammation, ranging from routine exposure to chemicals and other pollutants to untreated acute inflammation. Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, can cause chronic inflammation, and poor eating habits. Obesity, excess alcohol consumption, and smoking are all commonly known factors, as are irregular sleep patterns, chronic stress, and age.

Sometimes, the underlying cause of chronic inflammation is unknown.

How it Impacts the Body

Chronic inflammation's impact on the body can have severe consequences in people unaware of its presence or who do not treat it. The continual inflammation can damage DNA and otherwise healthy tissues and organs. This damage may include scarring internally and death of tissue.

Unchecked inflammation may also lead to severe diseases, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and Crohn's disease. Psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergies can also result from chronic inflammation. Sometimes, it may even be associated with cancer. Dementia or a general decline in cognition in older adults can also occur.

How is it Commonly Treated?

People diagnosed with chronic inflammation may receive treatment in several ways. Their healthcare provider may recommend using supplements to help reduce inflammation, such as vitamins A, C, and D, as well as zinc. Other non-prescription methods of treatment may include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Sometimes, a corticosteroid injection is also necessary to help suppress the immune system and help decrease inflammation. People must take care, however, when taking NSAIDs, as there are other health risks associated with long-term use. In severe cases, someone may need surgery to treat inflammation.

Diet Impacts Inflammation

What a person eats plays a significant role in inflammation. A poor diet can both cause inflammation and worsen symptoms. Eating a healthy diet, however, can help to avoid this. People should eat fewer refined carbs, red meats, and fried and sugar-sweetened foods. One should also reduce processed foods, including processed meats, and cut trans-fats and saturated fats that cause inflammation, such as dairy products, chicken with skin, lamb, and pork.

A healthy diet will ideally include items that naturally contain anti-inflammatory properties and are high in antioxidants. This includes salmon and other fatty fish, leafy vegetables, nuts, tomatoes, and other fruits such as blueberries and cherries. Diet plans that have shown results include the DASH and Mediterranean diets. Some foods have natural anti-inflammatory properties, including: 

  • olive oil 
  • ginger 
  • sage
  • Rosemary 
  • cinnamon 
  • turmeric

How to Reduce Inflammation

Besides taking NSAIDs and vitamins, there are other ways that people can reduce inflammation and decrease their risk. Getting enough quality sleep is one of the major components of good health and helping the body heal. People who get a minimum of 7 hours of unobstructed sleep will also notice an improvement in inflammation.

Living a healthy lifestyle is just as important as eating healthy. Exercise at least three times a week for 20 and 30 minutes daily to help lose excess body weight or maintain a healthy weight. Eliminating other causes of inflammation is also essential. This includes learning ways to manage everyday stress, limiting alcohol usage, and quitting smoking. In severe cases, surgery might be necessary to treat inflammation. 

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