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How to test for inflammation: a quick guide

Medically reviewed on August 1, 2022 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. 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 a completely normal phenomenon. When your body is fighting off bacteria and foreign substances, it produces multiple immune responses that help eradicate the irritant. [1] Inflammation is one of these responses.

While inflammation generally produces noticeable symptoms, you might not always be able to tell if your body is producing an inflammatory immune response. But because chronic inflammation can impact your body’s critical processes—and indicate internal health issues—testing for systemic inflammation can help you check your body’s immune response status even if you can’t feel it.

In this guide, we’ll cover several methods you can use to test for inflammation. We’ll break down how these testing methods work, examine why you should get tested, and explain when you should seek an inflammation blood test.

How do you test for inflammation in the body?

Let’s begin by discussing how to test for inflammation in the body. Healthcare providers generally order one of three kinds of testing to help determine whether your body is producing an inflammatory immune response. The options include:

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR test) blood testing
  • Plasma viscosity (PV) testing
  • C-reactive protein (CRP) testing

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR test) blood testing

This type of inflammation test measures your body’s production of immune system proteins that protect red blood cells against attack from foreign objects and substances. [2]

As a part of the inflammatory immune response, your body produces proteins that protect red blood cells (erythrocytes) against attack to prevent loss of function. To complete this test, healthcare providers will:

  1. Collect a blood sample
  2. Add the sample to a test tube
  3. Watch and time the process of red blood cells settling at the bottom of the tube

As your sample sits in a test tube, the red cells will slowly separate from the other components of your blood, including: [3]

  • White blood cells
  • Plasma
  • Platelets

This separation process is completely normal, but higher separation speeds can indicate that your red cells are coated in additional bacterial infection-fighting proteins, making them heavier.

However, ESR testing doesn’t measure the concentration of these proteins in your blood or identify the proteins. In addition, results outside of the normal separation rate don’t always indicate an immune response:

Slower than normal ESR results can indicate potential blood disorders, including:

  • Sickle cell anemia (abnormal red cell shape)
  • Polycythemia (a genetic disorder)
  • Leukocytosis (an increase in white blood cells)

Faster than normal ESR rates can be a sign of a variety of conditions, like:

  • Inflammatory response
  • Anemia
  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Heart Disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Healthcare providers can perform ESR testing in a matter of a few hours. The test result is measured in millimeters (mm) per hour of red cells as they separate from the rest of the blood components.

Plasma viscosity (PV) testing

Plasma viscosity testing is very similar to ESR testing. In this type of inflammation test, you can expect the following: [4]

  1. Healthcare providers collect a blood sample.
  2. They spin the sample in a centrifuge to separate plasma from the rest of the blood.
  3. They measure the viscosity (a physical property) using a viscometer.

The process can take just a few hours to complete.

Higher viscosity (the thickness of your blood) can indicate that non-plasma components are present in a sample. These components can include antibodies, inflammation proteins, and more.

Plasma viscosity testing is also similar to ESR testing in that results aren’t highly specific. Higher viscosity can indicate the presence of additional plasma proteins and components but doesn’t identify them.

C-reactive protein (CRP) testing

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein your body produces in response to sytemic inflammation. An elevated CRP in a blood sample typically is an inflammatory marker suggesting that the body is fighting an infection. [5]

To perform the CRP test, healthcare providers:

  1. Collect a blood sample
  2. Separate the red cells
  3. Add a CRP reagent (a substance that binds to CRP) to the blood serum
  4. Look for visible signs of CRP binding with the reagent

Providers can observe CRP binding within minutes of adding a reagent to the serum sample.

The test is considered fairly accurate. If the test provider observes CRP binding, the patient’s sample with high CRP levels—indicating an inflammatory response in the body.

Why should you get an inflammation test?

You might not always be able to tell if your body is inflamed. But if you’re experiencing ambiguous symptoms, an inflammation test can help you and your healthcare provider rule out any hidden inflammation as a potential cause of your symptoms.

If your blood sample indicates an immune response, your provider can take further steps to identify and treat the underlying cause.

When is the right time to test your inflammation levels?

As we’ve discussed, some temporary inflammation is a normal part of your body’s processes. But there are times when you’ll want to take action to alleviate inflammation more quickly.

For instance, if you have a recurrent fever or other chronic symptoms, an inflammation test can help you and your healthcare provider determine if your body is producing a prolonged immune (inflammatory) response. [6]

Seek an inflammation test if you’re experiencing non-specific chronic inflammation symptoms, or you notice one or more of the five symptoms of inflammation, which are: [7]

Take back control of your health with Everlywell

Inflammation testing is one of many tools that can help you and your healthcare provider identify a health issue. It’s a particularly useful tool for people with nonspecific or chronic symptoms, which can be difficult to translate into a diagnosis.

With help from Everlywell, you can complete various healthcare tests (including inflammation testing) without having to visit your healthcare provider or stand in line at your local lab.

Our Vitamin D & Inflammation Test harnesses the power of high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) testing to help you identify inflammatory responses, which can help you find the answers you need about your health.

For the tools you need to improve your overall wellness and develop effective treatment plans, look to Everlywell.

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References

  1. What Is an Inflammation? National Library of Medicine. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  2. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR). Medline Plus. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  3. Blood Basics. American Society of Hematology. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  4. Diagnostic Value of Plasma Viscosity Testing for Patients with COVID-19. National Library of Medicine. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  5. C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Test. Medline Plus. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
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