Inflammation: types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and


Inflammation is the natural response of the immune system to injury and illness. Inflammatory chemicals in the bloodstream protect your body from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. When traumatized, the localized inflammatory response plays a critical role in the healing process.

There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. You may think of acute inflammation as "good" because it helps us heal, while chronic inflammation is considered "bad" because of its association with chronic disease.

Research has shown that chronic inflammation plays a role in several health conditions, including arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Types of inflammation

Acute and chronic inflammation have different causes, symptoms, and goals.

Acute inflammation

Acute inflammation is usually caused by injuries like ankle sprains or diseases like common bacterial infections and viruses.

Acute inflammation occurs quickly and can be severe. If you've ever broken a bone or cut yourself, you've seen inflammation in action.

Common signs of inflammation after injury include:

  • Redness
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling, bumps, or swelling
  • Heat at the site of injury
  • Bruises
  • Rigidity
  • Loss of mobility

Depending on the cause and severity of the injury, acute inflammation can last from several days to several months.

Sometimes the acute inflammation is localized to one area and sometimes it is systemic, as in a viral infection. When your body identifies a harmful invader, such as a bacteria or virus, it initiates a whole-body immune response to fight it.

White blood cells trigger the release of various inflammatory chemicals. This type of acute inflammation causes nausea and exhaustion, as your body devotes all of its energy to fighting infection.

Symptoms of this type of inflammation include:

  • Hot
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Runny nose
  • Throat pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache

Signs and symptoms can last for days or weeks, or possibly longer for more serious causes.

Some acute infections are caused by more localized inflammation. Like most conditions caused by inflammation, they tend to end in "itis."

Examples include:

Chronic inflamation

Long-term chronic inflammation can last for years or even a lifetime. It often begins when there is no injury or illness and lasts much longer than it should.

Scientists do not know why chronic inflammation occurs, as it does not appear to serve the same purpose as acute inflammation. But they know that over time it can cause major changes in the body's tissues, organs, and cells.

Research has shown links between chronic inflammation and a variety of serious health conditions. Note that there is a big difference between the two related things and one reason for the other.

Chronic inflammation is one of several factors that contribute to the onset and progression of the disease. So far, the strongest link between chronic inflammation and disease has been seen in type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Other conditions associated with chronic inflammation include:

Chronic inflammation often progresses imperceptibly, with few independent symptoms. Despite its subtlety, chronic inflammation poses a serious threat to the health and longevity of a large population of people.

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Researchers have identified several common causes of chronic systemic inflammation, many of which are closely related to modern life and aging.

The causes of chronic inflammation include:

  • Physical inactivity – When muscles are in motion, an anti-inflammatory chemical is produced in the bloodstream. People who do not meet minimum activity guidelines for optimal health (about half of all American adults) are at increased risk for age-related illnesses.
  • Obesity : Adipose tissue, especially visceral fat (the deep layer of fat around the abdominal organs), actually produces pro-inflammatory chemicals.
  • Diet : Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat, and refined sugar have been linked to increased inflammation, especially in overweight people.
  • Smoking : Smoking cigarettes decreases the production of anti-inflammatory molecules and increases inflammation.
  • Low sex hormones: Sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone suppress inflammation. Lower levels of these hormones, which are common in old age, increase the risk of inflammatory diseases.
  • Stress : psychological stress is associated with increased inflammation.
  • Sleep disorders : People with irregular sleep patterns have more inflammation markers than people who regularly sleep eight hours a night.
  • Age : Research shows that chronic inflammation worsens with age.

A large study of more than 20,000 older adults found that those who meet the minimum weekly activity requirement have a 40% lower risk of Alzheimer's disease than their inactive peers. There are several possible reasons for this finding, but reducing inflammation likely plays a role.

Autoimmune diseases

In some diseases, the inflammatory process can begin even in the absence of foreign invaders. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks its own tissues, mistaking them for foreign or abnormal.

Researchers don't know exactly what causes the autoimmune disorder, but they suspect a combination of genetic and environmental factors. More than 80 different autoimmune diseases affect different parts of the body. Inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases affects different parts of the body in different ways.

For example, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs after the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in lifelong health effects. Another autoimmune disease, psoriasis, involves inflammation of the skin that occurs and disappears throughout life.

Other common autoimmune diseases include:

Some, but not all, types of autoimmune arthritis are the result of misdirected inflammation. Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation of the joints.

Some autoimmune diseases that cause joint inflammation:

Treatment for autoimmune diseases varies, but is often aimed at reducing an overactive immune system.

Why does inflammation hurt?

Inflammation, acute or chronic, can cause pain. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, a person may feel pain, stiffness, distress, and discomfort.

Inflammation causes pain because the swelling presses on sensitive nerve endings and sends pain signals to the brain. In addition, some of the chemical processes of inflammation affect the behavior of the nerves, causing an increase in pain.

Increased numbers of inflammatory cells and substances can also enter the joints, causing irritation, swelling of the joint lining, and ultimately destruction of cartilage, the smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones where they join to form joints. .

Diagnosis of inflammation.

No test can diagnose inflammation or the conditions that cause it. Instead, based on your symptoms, your healthcare provider will decide what tests may be necessary.

First, your healthcare provider will collect a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order blood tests and imaging.

Blood test

Blood tests can look for specific biomarkers that indicate inflammation. However, these tests are considered informative rather than diagnostic. They help your healthcare provider understand what is happening.

The tests your PCP may order include:

  • C-reactive protein (CRP): CRP is a protein that occurs naturally in the liver in response to inflammation. High CRP levels are common in people with chronic inflammation, inflammatory diseases, and acute inflammation.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): An ESR test is usually done to determine if inflammation is occurring.


Imaging techniques that can detect inflammation include:

  • Gadolinium-enhanced MRI
  • Power Doppler Ultrasound
  • PET-CT with FDG
  • Nuclear imaging

Watch out

Treatment will depend on the specific disease or condition and the severity of the symptoms.

Treatment of inflammatory diseases aims to reduce inflammation throughout the body and prevent serious complications.

Acute inflammation

For general inflammation, your healthcare professional may recommend:

  • Non-steroidal anti -inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are usually first-line drugs for short-term pain and inflammation. Most of these medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, are available without a prescription. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for certain inflammatory conditions.
  • Corticosteroids : This is a type of steroid that is commonly used to treat swelling and inflammation. Corticosteroids are available in the form of pills and injections. These drugs are only prescribed for short periods of time because they are known to cause serious side effects.
  • Topical medications: Topical medications , including pain relievers and steroids, can help with acute and chronic pain and inflammation of the skin and joints without the side effects of oral treatment. They are also helpful for long-term inflammation if they contain NSAIDs such as diclofenac or ibuprofen.

Chronic inflamation

In addition to treating joint pain and inflammation, medications for inflammatory conditions can help prevent or minimize disease progression. Medications can include:

Because many of the medications used to treat inflammatory conditions can cause serious side effects, it is important to see your doctor regularly.

Prevention of chronic inflammation.

There are a number of lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent and reverse chronic inflammation. This includes:

  • Slim down
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise).
  • Do muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
  • Give up smoking
  • Spend less time sitting
  • Walk more
  • Sleep a little
  • Using stress relieving techniques such as meditation or yoga.
  • Avoid isolation and socialize with others.
  • See your doctor regularly

Get the word of drug information

Although inflammation is a normal immune response, prolonged inflammation can be devastating. If you are at risk for chronic inflammation, be sure to schedule regular check-ups with your doctor. They can suggest preventive lifestyle changes or start a new treatment plan.

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