diagram illustrating inflammation in the gut overlaid on image of woman holding her stomach
June 20, 2024

Inflammation is a normal response of your immune system to injuries and invaders like viruses and bacteria. While short-term, or acute, inflammation can help you heal, chronic inflammation can cause further issues. Keep reading to find out more about what inflammation is, signs of it in the body, how to test for it, and how to treat it.

What Is Inflammation?

When your immune system detects an injury, toxin, or invading pathogen, it responds with the release of antibodies, proteins, and increased blood flow to the affected area. This increased blood flow causes acute inflammation that usually lasts a few days. If this response lingers, your body is left in a constant state of alert, leading to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can have a negative affect on your tissues and organs and may even play a role in a range of health conditions, from diabetes to stroke to cancer.

Signs of Inflammation

woman holding painful knee with red diagram of inflamed joint

If you have acute inflammation, you will likely notice symptoms such as swelling, redness, and pain. These symptoms can be reduced with remedies like cold compresses and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, has much more subtle symptoms that are easy to overlook. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last for several months or even years. Some of the common signs of chronic inflammation include:

  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal complications like constipation or diarrhea
  • Persistent infections
  • Body pain
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Weight changes
  • Flu-like symptoms

Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation can have several different causes. It can be caused by untreated acute inflammation such as from an injury or infection. Autoimmune disorders are another cause of inflammation as your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. Long-term exposure to toxins such as industrial chemicals or pollutants can also cause chronic inflammation. Other factors that may contribute to chronic inflammation include smoking, chronic stress, alcohol overconsumption, and age. These causes do not always result in inflammation for everyone, and some cases do not have a clear underlying cause.

How to Test for Inflammation

gloved hand holding test tube of blood

There is no specific test to diagnose inflammation. However, certain labs and tests can help indicate if inflammation is present by showing key markers in the blood. The most common tests for inflammation are:

  • C-reactive protein (CRP) - This is a protein made in the liver that tends to increase when inflammation is present. A normal CRP value is less than 3 mg/L. A value over this is often used to identify an increased risk of heart disease. If you have bodywide inflammation, your CRP could rise to over 100 mg/L.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) - This is a test that measures how fast your red blood cells settle to the bottom of a vertical tube. Inflammation can cause these cells to fall faster, and a higher amount of proteins in the blood make them clump together. While ranges can vary, a normal test result is around 20 mm/hr or less, while a value over 100 mm/hr is considered very high.
  • Fibrinogen - This is a protein in the blood that is commonly used to test the status of the blood clotting system. Levels of fibrinogen tend to increase when inflammation is present. A normal level is around 200 to 400 mg/dL.
  • Ferritin - This blood protein reflects the amount of iron stored in the body. A ferritin lab is often ordered to determine whether an anemic person is iron deficient. Ferritin levels are low when there is an iron deficiency, and they are high if there is too much iron in the body. These levels also rise when inflammation is present. A normal range of ferritin is 20 to 200 mcg/L.

Treatment for Chronic Inflammation

If left untreated, chronic inflammation may eventually damage your healthy cells, tissues, and organs. It is linked to the development of several diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, certain types of arthritis, and cancer. This is why it’s important to get your inflammation under control before long-lasting damage is done. Treatment for inflammation may include medications, exercise, rest, and even surgery to correct damage. Your healthcare provider can determine the best course of treatment for your circumstances.

There are some things you can do at home, too, to help ease chronic inflammation, including quitting smoking, exercising regularly, managing stress, limiting alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy weight. You can also try taking certain supplements that have natural anti-inflammatory benefits. An especially great supplement is Pure 95 Curcumin. Curcumin is a natural compound in turmeric that has been found to have a similar effect in reducing inflammation as ibuprofen.

If you have any questions about diagnosing and treating inflammation, please reach out to us at Magnolia Pharmacy and our knowledgeable pharmacy staff will be happy to help!