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6 possible signs of inflammation in the body

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on January 21, 2021. 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.


Though it is often misunderstood, inflammation is one of the most important and effective processes that the immune system has. It works to defend injuries from further infection while speeding up the healing process. The problem occurs when inflammation becomes consistent and chronic, potentially leading to some severe disorders that can affect your health and your quality of life.

So what are the signs of inflammation in the body to look out for? Read on to learn the answer, and consider checking your levels of the inflammatory marker hs-CRP with the at-home inflammation test.

What does inflammation do to the body?

Inflammation comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the short-term form of inflammation that occurs when you get an injury or contract an infection. It often shows up as redness, swelling, warmth, and pain in the affected area.

Chronic inflammation refers to long-term inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause the immune system to attack healthy cells and tissue, resulting in autoimmune issues. Heart disease, arthritis, bowel diseases, diabetes, and even certain forms of cancer are linked to chronic inflammation. So what does chronic inflammation look like in the body?

General body aches and pains

Systemic, long-term inflammation can lead to an increase in the production of inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a type of molecule secreted by immune cells. They normally play a role in modulating inflammatory reactions and attacking potentially invasive microorganisms. They otherwise help to regulate cellular processes within the body.

Chronic inflammation can contribute to an overproduction of inflammatory cytokines. As the body gets flooded with these molecules during chronic inflammation, the cytokines actually begin to attack healthy joint and muscle tissue, resulting in pain, swelling, redness, and stiffness. This can eventually lead to forms of arthritis.

Fatigue and physical tiredness

It can be normal to feel tired after a long day, but chronic inflammation can leave you feeling exhausted for no apparent reason at all. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.

The immune system requires energy to perform its basic functions, but an overactive immune system can essentially sap your energy as it creates more molecules and supports its own immune cells. At the same time, your body may be trying to defend itself from its own immune system, which can be tiring.

There are also some practical reasons for feeling tired with chronic inflammation. The constant body pain caused by inflammation for weeks or months at a time can wear you down. That pain can also interfere with a restful night of sleep, leaving you even more tired as a result.

Rashes and skin issues

Rashes can come from infections or be caused by an allergic reaction, but they may also be a sign of chronic inflammatory conditions. Your skin is highly sensitive and can reflect your overall health. Chronic inflammation in your gut may eventually manifest on your skin in the form of rashes, acne, and other skin problems.

Alternately, the immune system may begin to attack healthy skin cells, which can lead to rashes or certain skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis.

Consistently swollen lymph nodes

Your lymph nodes are glands that play a role in fighting off bodily infections. They essentially act as filters to trap viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other harmful microbes before they can spread throughout the body. The trapped microbes and buildup of lymph fluid causes the glands to actually swell up.

Lymph nodes exist throughout the body, but when they become swollen, they can be most noticeable along the sides of your neck, under your armpits, and in your groin.

When you have a cold, flu, or other illness, it is fairly common to have swollen lymph nodes. It is part of the regular immune response, and once the infection has passed, the swelling fades. However, if your lymph nodes are constantly swollen, you may be dealing with chronic inflammation and an overactive immune system.

Lymph nodes that stay swollen are a sign that your body and immune system are trying to fight a disruptive trigger of some kind, whether that’s an invasive microbe or something else. It’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider if you do experience consistently swollen lymph nodes as it may point to something more serious.

Low-grade fever

A fever is one of the hallmark symptoms of inflammation. Essentially, when your immune system notices an infection, it increases your natural body temperature. While bacteria and viruses thrive at a normal body temperature, many are unable to function properly or can even die in higher temperatures.

An overactive immune system may cause recurring fevers or contribute to a consistent, low-grade fever that leaves you running slightly hot all the time. The fever can get worse during flare-ups, leading to an all-around feeling of malaise and fatigue.

Digestive issues

Another common inflammatory condition that can surface is problems with digestion. While everyone can succumb to the occasional stomach bug or tummy problem, chronic inflammation can contribute to constant bloating, abdominal cramps, gas, constipation, and loose stools.


To check for indicators of inflammation in your body, take the at-home inflammation test from Everlywell.


How does diet affect inflammation?

The foods that you put into your body naturally contribute to your health and how you feel, and that goes for inflammation as well. Certain foods can contribute to ongoing inflammation, including:

  • Sugar
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Refined carbohydrate
  • Alcohol

Granted, any singular food or drink may not have a significant effect on your body or cause chronic inflammation, but regularly eating any of the above foods can make things harder for your body—especially if you are already prone to inflammation.

Ways to reduce inflammation

If you’re wondering how to reduce inflammation in the body, small changes to one’s diet can go a long way in some cases. Along with avoiding the above pro-inflammatory foods, consider switching to an anti-inflammatory diet (but be sure to consult with a nutritionist first), which may help reduce body-wide inflammation. This generally involves incorporating more fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, whole grains, and fatty fish into your diet in lieu of over-processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and added sugar.

Along with an anti-inflammatory diet, consider adding a regular exercise routine into your day. Exercise is generally good for just about every component of your health, including inflammation. Exercise has been found to release proteins that help to fight inflammation. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week can have a significant effect on your health. Find an activity that you like and can maintain.

Chronic stress can also be a major contributor to chronic inflammation. Chronic stress causes the release of hormones that can put extra pressure on your immune system, making you feel even worse. Exercise can go a long way towards relieving stress, but you can also look into breathing exercises, yoga, or even just spending time with friends to let some of that stress go.


Easily measure your levels of hs-CRP, a key marker of inflammation, from the convenience of home with the Everlywell at-home Vitamin D & Inflammation Test.


Possible causes of inflammation—and related health conditions


References

1. Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. URL. Accessed January 21, 2021.

2. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls [Internet]. URL. Accessed January 21, 2021.

3. What causes a fever? Scientific American. URL. Accessed January 21, 2021.

4. 8 Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation. Arthritis Foundation. URL. Accessed January 21, 2021.

5. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. URL. Accessed January 21, 2021.