FAQ: What is chronic inflammation?

Woman with chronic inflammation drinking a glass of water

Your immune system helps you fight infections and heal injuries, but sometimes it can go on overdrive.

To ward off infection or cancer, your body’s natural response is to send out white blood cells that can attack invading viruses, bacteria, fungi or cancer cells in a process called inflammation.

If your immune system is constantly triggered, that’s called chronic inflammation, and it can damage healthy cells and tissue. Chronic inflammation is especially problematic when your body is constantly reacting as if you were injured or sick, though there’s nothing to fight.

What causes chronic inflammation?

Many conditions can cause chronic inflammation, including type 1 or type 2 diabetes, gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation can increase your risk of developing serious complications, including unintentional weight loss, heart disease and a decrease in muscle mass.

Genetics can play a role in whether you develop a condition with chronic inflammation, but so do your habits — what you eat and whether you smoke or have a healthy weight. Eating a lot of red meat or foods containing refined sugar, or drinking excess alcohol or beverages containing high fructose corn syrup can put you at higher risk of developing chronic inflammation. That’s especially true if you have diseases such as gout or type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Chronic inflammation symptoms can include

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Low energy levels
  • Skin rashes
  • Swollen and painful joints

Can chronic inflammation be cured?

It depends on the cause.

Chronic inflammation is typically a sign of an underlying condition. For example, if you have gout, which can lead to inflammation in your joints, you can experience chronic inflammation. But it’s possible to reduce the amount of inflammation you experience with gout by improving your diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking the necessary medications. If you have a mild case, you might even be able to reach a point of no longer experiencing symptoms of the disease and eventually no longer need medication.

If you have chronic inflammation as a result of cancer, the chronic inflammation can improve if the cancer is effectively treated and goes into remission. But if you have rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus, you’ll likely require long-term medications to reduce your inflammation. These tend to be lifelong diseases.

How do you treat chronic inflammation?

That depends on the cause. For example, chronic inflammation related to gout could improve with changes in your diet and medications. But inflammation related to cancer typically requires cancer-specific treatment.

If you have chronic hepatitis, an antiviral treatment can treat the infection and decrease inflammation. For rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus, you could be treated with medications that suppress your immune system, which could reduce inflammation.

Does drinking lots of water help with inflammation?

Drinking water regularly helps your kidneys function normally, which can help flush toxins out of your body. In doing so, this can reduce inflammation because toxins in your body can trigger inflammation.

Is there a test for chronic inflammation?

Yes, there are blood tests your health care provider can order that show how much inflammation you have in your body. The tests do have limitations, though: They don’t necessarily indicate the cause of the inflammation. In certain situations, the inflammation can be limited to a specific part of your body, such as the eyes or the skin, and blood tests may not show that.

What foods reduce inflammation in the body?

Adjusting your diet can potentially help reduce the amount of chronic inflammation in your body.

Avoid highly processed foods and foods with high amounts of sugar or sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. Increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that you eat, such as oats and brown rice. Some popular diets that help reduce inflammation include the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. If you have a condition such as gout, limiting red meats and beer can be particularly helpful.

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