Healthcare provider explaining to patient the difference with regards to acute vs. chronic inflammation

Acute vs. chronic inflammation: understanding the difference

Written on March 29, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Inflammation is your body's natural defense against infection and injury. When your immune system begins fighting an infection or injury, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is defined as acute or chronic based on how long the immune system takes to repair the body. Acute or short-term inflammation can last for several days, while chronic or long-term inflammation can last for days or years [1-4]. This article aims to give you an overview of acute vs. chronic inflammation. Additionally, you will learn how EverlyWell can help you understand the inflammation in your body.

What is acute inflammation?

Acute inflammation occurs when your body experiences a physical injury, chemical irritant, or microorganism (bacteria, virus, etc.) [1,2]. The body mobilizes immune cells to repair damage and/or remove the invader.

During an acute inflammation response, neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, are the first immune cell to respond [4]. Following neutrophils, T lymphocytes release pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in response [4]. Cytokines trigger the activation of additional immune cells.

Your body initiates the acute inflammation response as a form of self-protection. However, if the acute inflammation response gets out of hand, it can cause damage to your body. Acute inflammation symptoms can last up to six weeks [1].

Symptoms of acute inflammation

Symptoms of acute inflammation vary based on the individual and the initiating factor. There are five symptoms of acute inflammation [1,2]:

  • Itchy, flushed skin (redness)
  • Tenderness or pain
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Loss of function

Causes of acute inflammation

Acute inflammation is caused by internal and external factors [1].


  • Physical injury
  • Damaged cells


  • Virulence factors (produced by viruses to help them invade the body)
  • Allergens
  • Toxic compounds

What is chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system is activated for a prolonged period. Chronic inflammation can last months, years, or a lifetime depending on its cause [3]. Chronic inflammation contributes to the development of many diseases, including the following [3]:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

While neutrophils are central to acute inflammation, macrophages, and plasma cells contribute to chronic inflammation. These cells prompt the release of other proteins that damage the tissues in your body [3]. Over time, this damage accumulates, causing painful symptoms that impair your quality of life.

Symptoms of chronic inflammation

The symptoms of chronic inflammation include [3]:

  • Body pain
  • Joint pain
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Acid reflux, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Changes in weight
  • Frequently sick

Causes of chronic inflammation

Some causes of chronic inflammation include [3,5]:

  • Autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus)
  • Periodontal disease (gum disease)
  • Repeated episodes of acute inflammation
  • Inflammatory disorders that cause defective immune cells (e.g., Family Mediterranean Fever)
  • Continuous exposure to irritants
  • Inability of the immune system to remove a microorganism (e.g., virus)

Which medications treat inflammation?

Medications are available to treat both acute and chronic inflammation [6]:

  1. Metformin: Metformin is a first-line medication for people with Type 2 diabetes. Metformin reduces chronic inflammation by lowering C-reactive protein (CRP).
  2. Statins: Statins help control lipid disorders and suppress cells contributing to heart disease. Examples of statins include atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, and simvastatin.
  3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs reduce inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). Examples of NSAIDs include naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin.
  4. Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids relieve inflammation in patients with asthma and skin disorders by suppressing multiple inflammatory genes. Prednisolone, dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone are examples of corticosteroids.

How can you test for inflammation?

An inflammation blood test measures your body's high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). If you are at risk for chronic inflammation-related diseases, tracking your inflammation levels over time is beneficial.

Hs-CRP is produced by the liver in response to inflammation and can become elevated due to chronic conditions or medications [6]. Your hs-CRP level can provide insight into your body's inflammation level and help you make informed decisions about your health.

Who should take an inflammation test?

Consider an inflammation test if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Ongoing, irritating pain in joints or muscles
  • Constant fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and reflux
  • Insomnia

How can you prevent inflammation?

You can prevent inflammation by taking the following steps [2]:

  1. Maintaining a healthy weight
  2. Drinking in moderation (two drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women)
  3. Smoking cessation
  4. Managing stress
  5. Exercising at moderate intensity for at least 150 min/per week

Everlywell lets you check inflammation marker levels

Everlywell's Inflammation Test measures your body's level of hs-CRP as well as vitamin D. After you get your results, you can discuss the next steps with your healthcare provider. Bringing your Everlywell results to a healthcare provider can help you make informed decisions about your health and wellness. Virtual care visits via Everlywell allow you to talk to a healthcare provider in the comfort of your home.

Does inflammation cause fatigue?

3 ways to reduce inflammation in the body

Possible causes of inflammation—and related health conditions


  1. Hannoodee S, Nasuruddin DN. Acute Inflammatory Response. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. URL
  2. Inflammation. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  3. Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. URL
  4. Chen, L., Deng, H., Cui, H., Fang, J., Zuo, Z., Deng, J., Li, Y., Wang, X., Zhao, L., 2018. Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs. Oncotarget 9, 7204–7218.. URL
  5. Bansal T, Pandey A, D D, Asthana AK. C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and its Association with Periodontal Disease: A Brief Review. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(7):ZE21-ZE24. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/8355.4646. URL
  6. Nehring SM, Goyal A, Patel BC. C Reactive Protein. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. URL
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