6 Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation You Shouldn't Ignore, Say Experts
Inflammation may just be one of the most dreaded terms in the health world right now. While inflammation naturally occurs after a foreign or harmful substance enters the body, through an open wound, for instance, long-lasting inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions later down the road.
Acute vs. chronic inflammation
"Acute inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself, like when you get a fever when you get sick or even redness around a pimple," says Alexandra Sowa, MD, dual-board certified doctor of internal and obesity medicine, clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone, and founder of SoWell Health. "But sometimes inflammatory pathways in the body are upregulated beyond an acute period to months or years, and it turns into chronic inflammation."
Chronic inflammation can lead to more serious health issues if left unaddressed, namely type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer's disease. So, what causes chronic inflammation? Sowa says that diet is a primary driver of chronic inflammation, however, several other lifestyle factors are also culprits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and unmanaged stress.
Below, Sowa, and two other health experts outline just six symptoms you may experience while dealing with chronic inflammation and offer three helpful tips on how you can potentially reverse it. Then, be sure to check out 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work!
Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RD, LDN says routine constipation is a key indicator that your body may be dealing with chronic inflammation.
"A person has constipation when they have fewer than three bowel movements a week. These movements may produce hard, dry stools that are difficult or painful to pass," says Kitchens.
"Unexplained diarrhea may be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease," says Cedrina Calder, MD, MSPH, and member of our medical review board. "In addition to diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can cause belly pain, fatigue, bloody in stool, and weight loss."
Not sure if you have diarrhea or just loose stool? Kitchens explains that diarrhea is described as stool that's both loose and watery in nature and is often tied to a greater sense of urgency, meaning you instantly feel the need to "go."
Another sign of chronic inflammation? Regular fluctuations in weight.
"A person has weight fluctuation when their body uncharacteristically gains or loses weight," says Kitchens. "This symptom can be accompanied by other GI issues such as constipation or diarrhea."
In fact, as Dr. Sowa points out, carrying too much weight could be a cause of chronic inflammation.
"Excess weight is often associated with insulin resistance, another driver of chronic inflammation. When the inflammatory state of insulin resistance develops, people often experience fatigue, weight gain, increased hunger, and mood changes," she says. "Its development is often subtle, and initially without dramatic side effects, but its long-term chronic disease consequences are significant."
Shortness of breath
"Shortness of breath is a very common symptom of chronic lung diseases like COPD," says Calder. "Many people with chronic lung disease also have a chronic cough and wheezing."
"Feeling more tired than usual may be a sign of chronic inflammation," Calder says. "Fatigue is a common symptom that can occur in several different chronic inflammatory diseases."
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"Body pain can be a symptom of chronic inflammation," says Calder. "Chronic inflammatory diseases that affect the muscles, joints, or spine can cause body pain."
To reduce chronic inflammation, try…
Eating more plant-based foods.
"Treating chronic inflammation is highly individualized but one of the first few steps you can try is incorporating higher fiber foods into your diet," says Kitchens. "Adding in a diverse amount of nutrient-rich plant-based foods to the diet like fresh fruits and vegetables and legumes can be helpful."
Be sure to check out Here's Exactly How a Plant-Based Diet Can Protect You From Disease, According to Experts.
Removing processed foods from your diet.
"A diet that's low in refined sugar, trans-fats, and saturated fat helps decrease inflammation. Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or fatty fish can decrease the proteins that produce inflammation," says Calder, adding that routine exercise also helps to decrease the production of inflammatory proteins.
Don't forget to read the 4 Health Benefits of Taking Salmon Oil, According to Science!
Getting quality sleep.
"Don't overlook good, quality sleep. Sleep apnea is significantly underdiagnosed, " says Sowa, adding that 26% of American adults are estimated to have sleep apnea, yet 80% aren't even aware they have the disorder.
"It is a driver of poor sleep and chronic inflammation, but you have to look for it in order to treat it."
Kitchens also suggests taking a deeper look at chronic stress and stress management tactics to help reduce inflammation. But ultimately, it's best to speak to your primary care provider or physician before coming to any conclusions.
"As with any chronic issues, it is important to see your health care provider to help identify and confirm any issues that you are having," she adds.
For more, be sure to read The 5 Absolute Best Foods to Eat For Better Sleep.