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Possible causes of inflammation—and related health conditions

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on January 10, 2020. Written by Caitlin Boyd. 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.


Long-term, or chronic, inflammation can cause a wide range of health problems. But what causes inflammation—and what can you do about it?

That’s what you’ll learn about here, plus related health conditions, so keep reading.

What is inflammation?

When your body suffers an illness or injury, it releases white blood cells and other substances into the bloodstream. These substances help your body fight off infections and heal injuries.


The body releases a particular substance—C-reactive protein—when it experiences inflammation. Check your levels of this inflammation marker from the comfort of home with our at-home inflammation test.


But sometimes your body's immune system responds to harmless materials. Your immune system can even attack your own tissue. This type of immune response can trigger chronic (long-term) inflammation.

Possible causes of inflammation

Nutritionally inadequate diet

A nutritionally inadequate diet can sometimes trigger chronic inflammation. You might be more likely to develop symptoms if your diet includes relatively high amounts of:

  • Sugar
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Processed meats
  • Trans fats

Allergies

If you have seasonal allergies, you may have chronic low-grade inflammation. Allergies can cause your immune system to over-respond to harmless substances. You might develop a reaction to pet dander, grasses or other plants, or common foods.

To learn what allergens may affect you, take the Everlywell at-home Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test, which lets you check 40 common allergens with just a small blood sample (collected with a simple finger prick).

Autoimmune disease

Like allergies, autoimmune diseases kick your immune system into overdrive. But while allergies cause your immune system to attack harmless substances, autoimmune disease causes your system to attack healthy cells. Over time, your immune system may damage your tissues and organs.

Inflammation is one of the most common symptoms of autoimmune disease. If you have an autoimmune disease, you might also notice pain, swelling, or itching. Some people also develop a rash. These symptoms can come and go.

A blood test for inflammation markers and an evaluation of symptoms and medical history can help your healthcare provider assess your risk for many autoimmune diseases.

Cardiovascular disease

Inflammation seems to be linked to cardiovascular disease (also known as heart disease). For example, long-term inflammation increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Some cardiovascular problems, like atherosclerosis, can also increase inflammation.

Reducing chronic inflammation in your body can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers have also discovered that treating cardiovascular problems may reduce inflammation.

Your healthcare provider can run tests to find out if your inflammation puts you at an increased risk of heart disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of autoimmune arthritis. RA develops when your immune system attacks the tissue in your joints. This causes your joints to swell up and become inflamed.

Joint inflammation can trigger pain, stiffness, and mobility issues. Your joints might also feel hot, and the skin may look red or chapped. RA is also linked to eye, heart, and lung disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes inflammation in your digestive tract. People with IBD often have unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

These symptoms can be debilitating and can cause serious health problems. People with IBD may be at risk for arthritis, skin lesions, or colon cancer.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can also cause your immune system to attack healthy tissue. Over time, MS can permanently damage nerve damage. People with MS can develop:

  • Tremor
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Incontinence
  • Dizziness

Seeking medical care

If you have symptoms of inflammation, your healthcare provider may perform a full physical exam. During your exam, your healthcare provider may check to see if you have a fever or a rash. Your joints may also be checked for swelling or stiffness. Your healthcare provider may also order a blood test for inflammation.

Inflammation is often treatable, but if you have a chronic illness like an autoimmune disease, you may need specialized care. Autoimmune diseases are not curable, though the good news is that medication often reduces inflammation and provides significant relief from symptoms.


The body releases a particular substance—C-reactive protein—when it experiences inflammation. Check your levels of this inflammation marker from the comfort of home with our at-home inflammation test.


References

1. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. URL. January 10, 2020.

2. Types of Allergies. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. January 10, 2020.

3. Autoimmune Diseases. MedlinePlus. URL. January 10, 2020.

4. Autoimmune disorders. MedlinePlus. URL. January 10, 2020.

5. Linking Chronic Inflammation with Cardiovascular Disease: From Normal Aging to the Metabolic Syndrome. National Center for Biotechnology Information. URL. January 10, 2020.

6. Antiinflammatory Therapy with Canakinumab for Atherosclerotic Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine. URL. January 10, 2020.

7. Rheumatoid arthritis. Mayo Clinic. URL. January 10, 2020.

8. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Mayo Clinic. URL. January 10, 2020.

9. Multiple sclerosis. Mayo Clinic. URL. January 10, 2020.