What is Chronic Inflammation? And how to know if you have it? 

By Dr. Swati Soni

Jul 23, 2022

You must have heard about the term ‘inflammation’. It has been gaining a lot of fame in the post-pandemic era where people are trying to be more aware of health and living healthy. Just like stress has got both sides that are essential and non-essential, inflammation also has both sides one that is a normal response of the body and another one being as non-required or signs of an unhealthy system.

As per functional medicine, chronic inflammation is the ROOT CAUSE of nearly every chronic disease, and reducing your inflammation is key to preventing and reversing chronic illness. 

So before we get into the understanding of unhealthy inflammation, let us understand what inflammation is all about!

What is inflammation? 

Inflammation is a term that refers to an immune response of the body towards any irritant, antigen, or micro-organisms: to understand in simple words, inflammation is our system’s alarming response towards anything that is not supposed to be a part of our body or which our body does not allow to be inside us. Don’t lose hope if you get confused a bit… you will get a better idea as you keep reading. E.g. whenever you get a wound the most common response you must have experienced would be redness, heat, excess blood supply towards that area, and even pain with mild swelling. This complete reaction takes place as a response of your defense system (immunity) which is triggered as soon as your skin’s barrier is broken and the tissues that are supposed to be covered come in contact with the external environment. Your system identifies this incident as a potential danger and your brain commands your immune system to send special cells to that wounded site to prevent the chances of any infections arising due to contact with any germs as well as to heal the broken tissues by clogging with platelets ( the dark brown plug that you see over any cut/wound).  A similar reaction also occurs inside your system whenever your internal organs or tissues face any damage/ irritation. Though we can’t see the immune function’s reaction happening internally, there are most of the time signs and symptoms that may indicate an inflammatory response taking place in the body. 

Now that you understand the normal process of inflammation, let us understand why and in what forms it is bad for us i.e. chronic inflammation which also means slow or long-term inflammation. It can result from oxidative stress (excessive free radical damage to cells), auto-immune disorder, poor immune functions, persistent irritation to tissues, repeated acute infections or inflammation, or physiological compromises. When our body goes through long-term inflammation at the organ level, it may lead to various lifestyle disorders such as diabetes, heart ailments, allergies, arthritis, lung problems, neurological damage, cancer, kidney-related disorders, etc. 

Though these disorders do not develop suddenly, because chronic inflammation progresses silently but it is the most common threat to the health and longevity of a human being. Various symptoms could be seen signaling inflammatory reactions taking place in the body. If we could identify these signals, we can take steps to address them on time. Observe and identify if you experience any of these symptoms. 

Common Signs of Chronic Inflammation 

  • Aches and pains:

    This is one of the most commonly ignored symptoms of chronic inflammation. Any kind of persistent pain or aches, that does not have any structural deformity or injury, and also does not respond well to therapies might be a hidden sign of irritation or muscle tightness that occurs along with inflammation.  

  • Chronic fatigue:

    High level of inflammation puts the system into a recovery mode which will direct the innate energy and blood flow towards the organs which are primarily involved in healing. This is the reason why you feel dull and drowsy when you recover from fever or any infections. Although the inflammation is long-term, this process may even last for weeks or months, and in a few cases even years. Chronic inflammation pushes our healing organs to function additionally and makes our muscular system and brain function slow, hence one may feel tired for no obvious reasons. 

  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia:

    To have good sleep, it requires a series of processes to take place in our body, e.g. the hormones responsible for sleep need to be produced, muscles and mind have to relax, digestion should be good, etc. due to chronic inflammation, many of the organs including endocrinal system can not function properly and is not able to make required hormones, and chronic fatigue does not give a relaxed feeling to be able to sleep well. 

  • Depression, mood disorders:

    Our mood is dependent on our sound physical and mental health. When chronic inflammation causes the body to feel tired and one could not relax or sleep as required, it would eventually affects mood and may lead to depression or anxiety-related symptoms. 

  • Digestive issues:

    As explained in the previous post, the gut-brain axis and chronic inflammation related to poor digestion in inevitable. Inflammation breaks the barrier within the intestines, affects nutrient absorption, reduces intestinal motility, or may contribute to a highly sensitive gut.  

  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss:

    Chronic inflammation affects the hormonal health of an individual. Certain hormones that play a role in the uptake and distribution of calories get disturbed due to abnormal secretion. Hence, if you are not able to achieve your weight goal even if you eat right and exercise, blame it on your inflammation and related hormones. 

  • Frequent infections:

    Getting frequent infections and chronic inflammation can become a vicious cycle. An inefficient or wrong treatment of infection repeatedly may give rise to chronic inflammation, also if your body already had developed chronic inflammation you may become prone to develop infections that take longer than usual to heal due to poor and exhausted immunity which is continuously involved in fighting the inflammatory process. 

  • Skin and hair problems:

    Our body recognizes hair and skin as non-essential organs since they are not primary for survival like the heart kidney, and lungs. Hence, when most of your energy and immunity are put to work to heal your system and fight, a compromised blood flow gives rise to issues like hair fall, skin problems, etc.  

  • Allergies:

    An allergy is a hypersensitive reaction of your immune cells that recognize any object as a threat to the system ( this process is similar to the normal process of inflammation ) but in the case of allergy, sometimes an over-working immune system fails to recognize a familiar object ( for example any food ingredient ) and throws the extreme inflammatory reaction against that object, the kind of allergic reaction varies from person to person. 

How do we identify inflammation in the body? 

In case of any inflammation in the body, other than the physical symptoms there will be higher levels of certain markers, e.g. CRP (C-Reactive Protein) which may have higher values whenever there is any inflammation in the body. Although one cant specify the type just by seeing the blood values because it gives general information about the presence of biomarkers in the blood and not specific types of sites in the body. Besides, if you are suffering from any kind of chronic disease, disorder, or hormonal imbalance, it’s safe to assume that there is inflammation in the body. When left unchecked over a period of time, it becomes chronic and we get stuck in the vicious cycle of inflammation and diseases.  

Fortunately, inflammation is a reversible condition if taken care of at an early stage. Lifestyle changes, healthy habits, and the right nutrition is the best route to undo inflammation. But it all starts with a proper diagnosis. One needs to identify the root cause of inflammation and eliminating the cause is the only permanent solution for reversing it. 

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