Inflammation: What You Really Need to Know
Jul 05, 2022 | Family Medicine | Share:
Inflammation is all over the news these days. In fact, you've probably come across an article in your news feed lately that features something like the top six foods you should always eat to reduce inflammation.
And inflammation does matter, but not all inflammation is bad. In fact, inflammation is part of your body's natural immune response. However, ongoing inflammation can be harmful to your health.
We've created a guide to everything you need to know about inflammation, and what you really need to do to fight it. (Spoiler alert: it starts with your primary care doctor.)
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of your body's natural immune response. It's a way for your body to protect itself from infection or injury. When you have an injury or infection, your body releases chemicals that help repair tissue damage and fight off foreign invaders. This causes the area around the injury or infection to swell, turn red, and feel warm.
In some cases, inflammation can be helpful. For example, if you've ever had a cut on your finger that became red and swollen, that's inflammation at work! The swelling helps reduce pressure on the injured area and prevents further damage. The warmth is caused by increased blood flow, which helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the area so it can heal faster.
However, inflammation can also be harmful. Chronic inflammation is ongoing inflammation that lasts for weeks, months, or even years. It can damage your body's own tissues and lead to a number of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
Acute Inflammation in Your Body
Acute inflammation happens as a direct response to an infection or injury. It's a short-term process that helps your body heal. Acute inflammation is usually uncomfortable, but that discomfort is a sign that your immune system is doing its job. Once the infection or injury is gone, the inflammation goes away, too.
Signs of acute inflammation include:
- Loss of function
If you've ever had the flu or another upper respiratory illness, you've experienced inflammation firsthand. The flu virus enters your body and your immune system responds by releasing white blood cells and other chemicals to fight the virus. This process causes inflammation in the tissues near the virus, which can lead to symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and coughing.
You also experience inflammation any time you have an injury. When you sprain your ankle, the tissues surrounding the joint become inflamed, which can lead to swelling, pain, and loss of function. The inflammation is caused by chemicals released by the body in response to the injury. These chemicals help reduce pressure on the injured area and promote healing.
Chronic Inflammation in Your Body
As we've said, acute inflammation is a necessary part of your body’s immune response. But it can be problematic when your body experiences ongoing inflammation for several weeks, months, or even years. This is known as chronic inflammation.
While acute inflammation is usually immediately evident, chronic inflammation is often more subtle. The intense symptoms of acute inflammation usually subside within a few days or a week. Chronic inflammation is less intense but can cause feelings of general malaise.
The signs of chronic inflammation share some similarities with those of acute inflammation, but they are usually more generalized and last for a longer period of time. These signs include:
- Pain, including generalized discomfort, achiness, and stiff or painful joints
- Skin redness, rashes, and other persistent skin issues
- Intermittent fever or ongoing low-grade fever
- Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
- Digestive issues, including diarrhea or constipation
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Depression, anxiety, or other changes in mood
There are a number of factors that can contribute to chronic inflammation, including autoimmune diseases, infections, obesity, smoking, and stress. These are known as "risk factors" because they increase your chances of developing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of health problems, such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
However, there's no need to panic. While chronic inflammation is a serious issue, there are several things you can do to reduce inflammation or your risk of developing it. But the most important thing you can do to prevent or reduce inflammation is to schedule a visit with your primary care doctor.
Visit a Primary Care Doctor Near You
Whether you're experiencing symptoms of chronic inflammation or want to prevent chronic inflammation from developing, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Your primary care doctor is your partner for better health and can monitor changes in your health over time. Simple lab tests can measure inflammation in your body, and your primary care doctor can develop a treatment plan to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation or help you manage existing issues.
Your doctor may suggest some simple steps you can take towards reducing inflammation, such as:
- Eat a healthy diet and manage your blood sugar. Diets high in processed foods and saturated fat can increase your risk of chronic inflammation. Additionally, managing your blood sugar can also help decrease inflammation.
- Get regular, moderate exercise.
- Reduce stress. When you’re stressed, your body produces chemicals that can lead to inflammation. While you can’t control external stressors, you can learn to better manage your body’s stress response.
- Quit smoking. You already know that smoking is hazardous to your health. But if you’re looking for another reason to quit, smoking is a leading cause of chronic inflammation.
But healthcare is personal. Your primary care doctor can help you prioritize actions toward reducing or preventing inflammation within the context of your personal healthcare needs and goals. And your primary care doctor is always there to help you interpret health news and answer your questions in a safe, judgment-free environment.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your primary care doctor or if you don’t have one, doctors at MedHelp clinics in Birmingham are accepting new patients for primary care. Our board-certified physicians want to partner with you for better health through relationship-based primary care.
Your primary care doctor is your partner for better health. Whether you’ve got health concerns or it’s just been a while since your last check-up, it’s time to schedule that appointment. Primary care doctors at MedHelp clinics in Birmingham are accepting new patients.