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Here's What Inflammation Feels Like, Say Physicians

Experts explain what inflammation is and signs to look out for. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Inflammation is supposed to be a really good thing for our body and help fight off things like infection, but when we produce too much it becomes harmful. "Inflammation happens in everyone, whether you're aware of it or not. Your immune system has to create inflammation to protect the body from infection, injury, or disease. There are many things you wouldn't be able to heal from without inflammation so it's a good thing. The problem arises when it lasts longer than it should," Dr. Seema Bonney, the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Too much inflammation causes damage to the organs, joints and contributes to chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and more. We talked to experts who explain what inflammation feels like and what signs to be aware of. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Inflammation and What Causes It

Young upset stressed woman suffering from abdominal and stomach pain during menstruation, PMS in room at home. Inflammation and infection. Food poisoning

Sarah Anderson, a cardiology and functional medicine nurse practitioner with Peak Integrative Wellness shares, "Inflammation is actually part of the body's natural response to healing and immune response. When your body detects an "invader" – bacteria, virus, food allergen, toxin- it sends mast cells and other white blood cells to the site to mount a defense. In the case of a cut, the tissues become inflamed as new cells grow and injured cells are repaired."

Dr. Bonney adds, "When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger an immune response including the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as more blood flow to the area. This can cause symptoms that are classically associated with inflammation like redness, swelling, warmth.  Other sources of inflammation include micronutrient deficiencies. And if you have dysbiosis or leaky gut, that's another major source of inflammation as most of your immune system lives in the gut. As the adage goes, if the gut isn't healthy, nothing is!"


What Inflammation Feels Like


Anderson explains, "Inflammation in the gut is often described as a fullness, swelling, or bloated type feeling. The area can be sore, such as an acute injury or cut while it is healing.  Inflammation can be quite painful, as well like in rheumatoid arthritis.  Chronic inflammation related to conditions such as an IBS or Crohn's disease can have other presenting symptoms such as the abdominal swelling and bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and in severe cases, bleeding." 

According to Dr. Bonney, "The classic signs of inflammation include pain, redness, swelling, and warmth. However, symptoms of inflammation can also include flu-like symptoms and fevers/chills, headaches, loss of appetite, muscular aches/pains."

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How Inflammation Affect Daily Life

unrecognized young asian woman had pain at calves sitting on couch at home

"Inflammation Is part of the body's natural response and part of the healing process," says Anderson. "Inflammation becomes problematic when the body is in a chronic state of stress and inflammation and the body does not have a chance to recover and rebuild. chronic stress and inflammation can overtime lead to immune dysfunction and chronic illness. Often in chronic illness the symptoms of inflammation build slowly over time until they reach a point that it affects daily life. People with chronic inflammatory conditions can have mobility issues and chronic pain as a result of their condition." 

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Difference Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation

doctor and patient having a somber conversation

Dr. Bonney states, "Acute inflammation occurs for a shorter duration, but symptoms appear more quickly, and it can often be more severe. It generally self-resolves in two weeks or less. This type restores your body to its state before injury or illness. On the other hand, chronic inflammation is slower and more insidious. It is generally not as severe, and not as obvious, and manifests in different ways. It's not necessarily in response to an injury or insult, and doesn't always end when the illness or injury is healed. Chronic inflammation happens when this response lingers, and leaves your body in a constant state of high alert. Over time, chronic inflammation will have a negative effect on your tissues and organs, playing a role in a range of conditions from autoimmune disease to cancer to even strokes. Acute inflammation is necessary, however chronic inflammation can trigger your immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs in your body. And if it's not addressed and resolved, prolonged inflammation increases risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like RA and inflammatory bowel diseases."

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How Can Inflammation Be Prevented?

Handsome doctor in lab coat using tablet computer in clinic.

Anderson says, "Acute inflammation due to an acute injury is normal and should not be prevented. It is part of the body's natural healing process and response. Chronic inflammation, however, is detrimental to long-term health and can be prevented by avoiding the triggers and minimizing exposure to toxins that trigger chronic inflammation. Incorporate daily things like eating organic food that are less likely to have pesticides which cause inflammation, stress reduction (a big one!) avoiding food allergens and sensitivities. There are some herbs and supplements that can help with chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases such as glutamine (GI), Ashwagandha (stress) and omega-3's. Lab tests can be done to find the body's  level of inflammation if it is a concern.  Check with your doctor before adding any herbs or supplements." 

Dr. Bonney explains, "Investigating and then targeting the key sources/causes of inflammation is the key to preventing inflammation. The sources of inflammation are rooted in both lifestyle factors as well as your biochemistry. One major source of inflammation can come from the food you eat – which is one of the major reasons it is so important to be intentional about what you do and don't put in your body. Think of your car as a smooth running machine and the food you eat as the fuel that runs your body. That fuel needs to be 98 octane!" And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather