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As medical experts learn more about inflammation and how it affects our overall health, its link to a broad array of diseases and medical conditions has also been discovered. Its effect on almost all parts of the body—heart, lungs, bones, joints, skin, brain, and more—means that doctors often recommend a multi-faceted approach to inflammation treatment.
Inflammation is often discussed in negative terms, but it’s your immune system’s way of building a defense against bacteria or viruses or of helping to heal and protect an injured portion of the body by increasing blood flow to the area. This response helps to keep us safe from trauma. But when inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, it could have a negative effect on your health.
Causes and Types of Inflammation
Inflammation can be caused by various triggers, such infection, physical injury, or an overactive immune system. The triggers cause the body’s arteries to enlarge and supply an increased flow of blood to the damaged region, fluid and proteins to build up, and the body to release a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil. Once these three processes occur, inflammation symptoms become noticeable.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation symptoms progress quickly, can become severe in a short period of time, and can often be relieved within a few days or weeks with treatment. Conditions that can cause acute inflammation include:
- Physical injury
- Sore throat from cold or flu
- Cuts, burns, or scratches
Chronic inflammation can last several months or years. In some cases, it results from acute inflammation that went untreated; in others cases, it occurs because of an autoimmune disorder. Conditions that can cause chronic inflammation include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Peptic ulcer
Inflammation Symptoms and Tests
Acute inflammation symptoms are quite noticeable. They can cause pain, swelling, redness, loss of function in the affected region, and skin that is warm to the touch.
Chronic inflammation, however, can often go unnoticed or be mistaken for other conditions. Symptoms can include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive issues
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes or blotchiness
Testing for Inflammation
There are several blood tests that doctors use to diagnose both acute and chronic inflammation. The most common test is high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), which detects a protein that the body makes in response to inflammation. This test is ideal for detecting low-grade, chronic, and body-wide inflammation, and can effectively predict your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
(For more information about high sensitivity C-reactive protein, check out Do You Have Inflammation or Diabetes? 2 Tests Give the Answer.)
Other tests doctors use to assess inflammation in the body include fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1c, serum ferritin, and red blood cell width, according to David Jockers, DNM, DC, MS.
3 Common Inflammation Treatments
Depending on the type and severity of inflammation found within the body, your doctor may recommend one or all the following inflammation treatments to heal or manage the condition that’s causing it.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are often used to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, muscle pain, and headaches. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib are among the most common NSAIDs recommended by doctors.
- A group of steroid hormones that includes cortisol, corticosteroids are divided into two smaller groups: glucocorticoids, which are used to treat arthritis, lupus, IBS, and asthma, and mineralocorticoids, which are used to treat cerebral salt wasting and Addison’s disease.
- Antibiotics and anti-viral medications. If testing reveals that a bacterial infection is the cause of your inflammation, your doctor may recommend antibiotics. These drugs, such as penicillin, are sometimes used to treat sinusitis, periodontitis, meningitis, and peptic ulcers. If inflammation is present due to a viral infection, your doctor may prescribe anti-viral medications for conditions such as the flu and hepatitis. These drugs can’t kill viruses but can inhibit their development.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) preserve joints by blocking inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Biologics are a special kind of DMARD designed to reduce inflammation and stop joint damage.
- Statins have anti-inflammatory effects, according to a 2019 article in the Frontiers in Psychiatry Journal, by lowering LDL cholesterol.
What you put into your body can either heal or feed your chronic inflammation. Your diet should be high in vitamin K, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower inflammation. This means you should be eating plenty of fruits, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Avoid eating large amounts of fatty meat, fried foods, and trans fats, which can have the opposite effect.
(For more information about eating an anti-inflammatory diet, check out “Anti-Inflammatory Diet: It Could Be Your Key to Pain Prevention.”)
Plus, certain herbs and spices are recognized by medical experts as inflammation treatments and can be added to food and beverages or taken as supplements. Among them:
3. Stress reduction
Many experts believe that the key to preventing inflammation is to keep stress levels low with regular exercise, a healthy sleep regimen, and stress reduction techniques.
Stress reduction is a beneficial inflammation treatment for those suffering from low grade variety, which can cause chronic fatigue, obesity, and other serious conditions. Studies show multiple links between stress, fatigue, and inflammation.
In one study, researchers reported that stress can inhibit the body’s ability to use the hormone cortisol to manage inflammation (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2, 2012). “Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol, and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control,” study author Sheldon Cohen, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement.
Tell your doctor if you feel chronically anxious, and make it a point to work managing the stress in your life. Consider stress-relieving techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, or simply find a hobby you enjoy that can take your mind off of your worries.
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This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.