Some inflammation in your body is good. It’s a sign that your body is trying to heal itself. Symptoms of redness, warmth, swelling and pain that are short-lived mean that your immune system is activating and sending inflammatory chemicals to the wound or injured site to allow recovery.
But in some cases, the inflammatory response can become chronic. Chronic inflammation may be the root cause of many of our dreaded diseases. Coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s are all associated with inflammation say experts, according to Martha Stewart.
Inflammation also drives the aging process faster than any other biomarker, notes Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, author of The 21-Day Belly Fix. “As we get older inflammation increases, in part because our bodies are less adept at digesting and processing the nutrients we need to regulate it.”
Here are some of the most common manifestations of inflammation in the body — and what might be causing it.
• Pain. Most inflammation in the body is accompanied by pain. It could feel like burning in acute circumstances or aching and throbbing in more chronic cases. Treat acute events with rest, ice, immobilization, and elevation. Use natural anti-inflammatories like garlic, ginger, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Chronic cases, such as autoimmune disorders may respond to NSAIDs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs, painkillers, and long-term physical therapy.
• Fatigue. Fighting inflammation requires a lot of energy which is why you may be feeling tired. Fatigue may occur as you fight infections or could also be the result of food intolerances or an autoimmune disease. Focus on getting as much rest as possible and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats.
• Skin changes. Inflammation can cause redness, itchiness, rashes and hives due to an infection, autoimmune disease, or an allergic reaction. Try to identify the underlying causes which can range from anything including medications to topical skin care products, says Dr. Steve Vasilev, medical director with Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
• Breathing issues. Vasilev warns that inflammation in your lungs may cause difficulty breathing, wheezing coughing, and shortness of breath. “This can occur in response to infections, allergies, or chronic lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD,” he says. Visit your primary care doctor who can develop a treatment plan that includes medications or inhalers as well as advise on avoiding triggers.
• Headaches. Sometimes inflammation is to blame for headaches and migraines. Vasilev explains that this could be the result of the body releasing inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins that can sensitize pain receptors. It’s important to identify the underlying cause of the headaches to formulate a treatment plan.
• Swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are part of the immune system and will typically swell if there is an infection. They tend to resolve on their own.
• Digestive issues. Gastric discomfort, induing gas, bloating and diarrhea may signal inflammation in your gut. This type of inflammation is best treated by a registered dietitian and your physician. Medication and/or herbs are used to decrease the population of unhealthy microbes, healing the gut, and calming the immune system by reestablishing a health microflora.
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