What are the Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation?
It’s possible to suffer from chronic inflammation without knowing it, but usually, there are symptoms that act as evidence.
For some, certain things like stomach aches or headaches occur frequently. The person suffering may not know the reason for the ailments, but in some cases, chronic inflammation may be the issue.
Other signs of chronic inflammation include:
- Fatigue or low energy
- Mouth sores
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Body pain
- Skin rashes
- Excessive mucus production
- Poor digestion
Potential Long-Term Damaging Effects of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is linked to many long-term and damaging conditions. According to an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Chronic inflammation is the most significant cause of death in the world.”
Dr. Mark Hyman, former editor in chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine is quoted saying, “Inflammation is a key cause or factor in almost all chronic degenerative and lifestyle diseases.”
This low-level chronic inflammation can continue for years undetected in the body while still causing long-term damaging effects.
Some of those issues include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
These diseases may seem to be unrelated to chronic inflammation, but they are responses to the body living in a prolonged state of healing.
While inflammation is a natural part of healing, when it continues over long periods of time, it can cause the body to weaken or operate incorrectly.
Chronic Inflammation and Cardiovascular System
In recent years, doctors and scientists have been studying the relationship between chronic inflammation and heart disease. They’re beginning to find that chronic inflammation is one of the factors that increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Chronic inflammation is linked to cholesterol deposits in coronary arteries which can lead to heart disease. Deepak Bhatt, M.D., chief of cardiology for the VA Boston Health Care System is quoted saying:
Exactly how inflammation plays a role in heart attack and stroke remains a topic of ongoing research. It appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is a buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels.
The body perceives this plaque as abnormal and foreign — it does not belong in a healthy blood vessel. In response, the body tries to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood.
The walling off process is an inflammatory response and meant to contain the damage. As the white blood cells try to remove plaque from the arteries, the walls sometimes break down causing the plaque to rupture. This can lead to a blood clot that is responsible for health crises like heart attacks or strokes.
Chronic Inflammation and its Link to Cancer
Cancer is another disease that is sometimes linked to chronic inflammation. In a study published in 2007, researchers from the National Cancer Institute concluded that 25% of all cancers can be traced back to infection and chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease put people at a higher risk for colon cancer. Reflux esophagitis (Barett’s esophagus) is associated with esophageal cancer, hepatitis predisposes individuals to liver cancer, and Helicobacter infection can lead to stomach cancer.
In most cases, the longer someone experiences inflammation the more likely they are to develop cancer.
Chronic Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases
Another risk of chronic inflammation is developing an autoimmune disease.
A study was released in 2019 that included three doctors from around the world. They asserted that recent evidence points to abnormal inflammatory responses leading to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, gout, and diabetes.
With autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation, it can sometimes be the chicken or the egg scenario. Does chronic inflammation lead to an autoimmune disease or does an autoimmune disease lead to chronic inflammation?
Research is showing that it may be some of both, but there is still much to learn about the relationship between the two.
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system is either under or overactive. In the case of an overactive immune system, the body mistakes its own body tissue for an invader and attacks it. This leads to inflammation in the body.
Noel R. Rose, MD, PhD, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and director of the Johns Hopkins Autoimmune Disease Research Center, is quoted saying,
In rheumatoid arthritis, is it caused by inflammation and autoimmune disease comes secondarily, or is it caused by autoimmunity? The evidence is unclear.
Most autoimmune diseases aren’t caused by inflammation, although many autoimmune diseases cause inflammation. Some inflammatory processes may enhance the possibility of autoimmune disease in individuals with a genetic predisposition. Having inflammation may raise the likelihood of a subclinical autoimmune response reaching clinical thresholds. For example, this may occur in thyroiditis. We know that inflammation is caused by the same mediators often involved in the autoimmune process.
In other words, there is some evidence that shows that people that have a genetic predisposition may develop an autoimmune disease triggered by inflammation. Still, there is still more research to be done to better understand these processes.
It’s also clear that even if the autoimmune disease is responsible for the chronic inflammation, the results can be devastating on the human body.