6 possible signs of inflammation in the body

Updated Dec 28, 2023. Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD. 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.

Table of contents

Though it’s often misunderstood, inflammation is one of the most crucial and effective processes your immune system has for fighting illness. Your inflammatory response accelerates the healing process, preventing the spread of infection and addressing acute physical injuries.

Inflammation only becomes a problem when it can no longer self-regulate or turn itself “off.” [1] This form of dysfunction makes inflammation chronic, which can potentially lead to more pervasive disorders that can compromise your health and quality of life. [1]

Many people experience chronic inflammation, whether because of a highly sensitive immune system or an infection or injury that hasn’t fully healed. [1] Here, we examine several common symptoms of inflammation and what you can do to help your body recover.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a widely used term that describes a state of immune reactivity. It’s also a condition of many chronic illnesses, including (but not limited to) [2]:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Obesity
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes

Though the term “inflammation” can be applied broadly, it’s usually classed into two types:

  • Acute inflammation, which occurs when you get an injury or contract an infection. [1] It’s a short-term type of response that often shows up as redness, swelling, warmth, and pain in the affected area. [3]
  • Chronic inflammation, which persists over a longer period. Chronic inflammation symptoms can cause an autoimmune reaction, where the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue. [1] This form of inflammation is linked to a variety of conditions impacting a range of body systems, from psoriasis to certain forms of cancer. [1]


6 Effects of Inflammation on the Body

Because your immune system cares for your entire body, immune dysfunction can appear in symptoms as wide-ranging as physical pain to skin flare-ups. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it may be a wise idea to consult with a healthcare provider or screen for inflammatory markers at home.

1. Body Aches and Pain

Systemic, long-term inflammation can lead to an increase in the production of inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a category of proteins disbursed by your immune system. [1] In a non-inflammatory state, different types of cytokines are responsible for activities like [4]:

  • Modulating inflammatory reactions
  • Preventing potentially invasive microorganisms from reproducing
  • Assigning immune cells to areas of your body where they’re needed

Chronic inflammation can contribute to an overproduction of inflammatory cytokines. [1] In excess, they may begin attacking healthy joints and muscle tissue, causing pain, joint swelling, redness, and stiffness, and even certain forms of arthritis. [1]

2. Fatigue

Many people with chronic inflammation feel exhausted all the time, seemingly for no clear reason. [1] Some experts believe fatigue caused by inflammation is attributable to [1]:

  • Immune system energy expenditure – Like any other system of the body, your immune system needs energy to function. An overactive immune system requires extra energy to create more immune cells and support its existing ones. Simultaneously, your body may be trying to defend itself from your own immune system, expending even more energy.
  • Living with chronic inflammation – People who struggle with sleep disturbances are more likely to have chronic inflammation. Chronic stress, which has been linked to sleep deprivation, is also associated with excessive inflammatory cytokines. Living with symptoms like constant achiness or discomfort can also interfere with sleep, deferring your ability to heal.

3. Rashes and Skin Conditions

The skin is highly reflective of overall health. Many people with chronic inflammation notice frequent skin rashes. [3] In some cases, the immune system may begin attacking healthy skin cells, manifesting in inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. [5, 6]

4. Swollen Lymph Nodes

Your lymph nodes play a leading role in fighting off bodily infections. [7] They function like filters to trap viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes before they can propagate. Once trapped, microbes and a buildup of lymph fluid may cause the lymph nodes to swell.

Lymph nodes can be found throughout the body, but when inflamed, they may be most noticeable around the [7]:

  • Sides of the neck
  • Armpits
  • Groin

Swollen lymph nodes are fairly common if you have a cold, flu, or other illness. [7] It’s a normal part of the immune response that should dissipate after an infection has been put to rest.

However, if your lymph nodes are constantly swollen, it could be a sign of an immune disorder—that your immune system can’t rest and recover, even if it’s already dealt with a threat.

5. Fever

During an infection, your natural body temperature rises to help your immune system fight the infection off. [8] This results in a fever, as many forms of bacteria and viruses are unable to function properly in higher temperatures.

An overactive immune system may cause waves of fever or a consistently higher-than-average body temperature (one related auto inflammatory disease is Familial Mediterranean fever, though this typically arises at a young age). [1] Fevers can become more severe during immune flare-ups, which may also lead to malaise and chronic fatigue in some people.

6. Digestive Upset

Another common chronic inflammation symptom is problems with digestion, particularly inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or ulcerative colitis. [1] Inflammatory digestive issues can encompass a range of symptoms, including [1]:

  • Constant bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Loose stool
  • Loss of appetite

Both IBD and ulcerative colitis may be treated with medicine that aims to calm the immune system and reduce the inflammation response. [9, 10] While their causes are unclear, both conditions are known to be aggravated by periods of stress and dietary factors. [9, 10] Learning how to reduce inflammation in the body through stress reduction techniques and revising your diet may help calm some of their symptoms.

Diet and Chronic Inflammation: What’s the Connection?

Did you know that there are foods that cause inflammation? The food you eat inevitably contributes to your sense of well-being and physical health. Certain constituents in food have been associated with chronic inflammation, including [11]:

  • Added sugars
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Alcohol

Eating a lot of these substances regularly can be hard on your body, especially if you already have immune sensitivities like an allergy or food intolerance.

Lifestyle Recommendations for Reducing Inflammation

If you’re worried you may have chronic inflammation, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider to rule out the possibility of an autoimmune disorder or other chronic illness.

Apart from securing a thorough diagnosis, the following lifestyle changes can help build the foundation for immune health:

  • Diet – Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may support a more balanced immune response. [11] You can start by eliminating or limiting inflammatory foods like processed products and added sugars, focusing on fresh produce, nuts, whole grains, and fatty fish instead. [11] Just be sure to consult with a healthcare provider or dietitian to ensure this type of eating plan is right for you.
  • Regular movement – Exercise has been found to reduce the presence of an inflammatory marker like cytokines, which may help reduce external and internal inflammation symptoms. [1] Aim for just 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, ideally through an activity that you enjoy and can maintain in the long term.
  • Stress reduction – As chronic stress can be a major contributor to chronic inflammation, cultivating a less stressful lifestyle can help give your body more space to rest and recover. One way to start is by using simple techniques like breathing exercises, yoga, or enjoying time with loved ones. Regular exercise can also assist with mitigating stress.

Test for Signs of Inflammation with Everlywell

If you think you may be experiencing chronic inflammation, Everlywell empowers you to screen for inflammatory markers like the hs-CRP protein from the comfort of your home. With Everlywell, you’ll receive physician-reviewed results with the insights you need to take action on your well-being.

Find out more by exploring the complete Nutritional Health test collection at Everlywell online today.

  1. “Chronic Inflammation.” Statpearls - NCBI Bookshelf, August 7, 2023. URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  2. “Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What to Eat (and Avoid).” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 13 Dec. 2023, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  3. Cleveland Clinic Medical. “Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  4. Cleveland Clinic Medical. “What Are Cytokines? Types and Function.” Cleveland Clinic. URL.Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  5. “Eczema.” StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf, August 8, 2022. URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  6. “Psoriasis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Oct. 2022, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  7. “Swollen Lymph Nodes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  8. “Fever.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  9. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Sept. 2022, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  10. “Ulcerative Colitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Sept. 2022, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
  11. “Foods That Fight Inflammation.” Harvard Health, 16 Nov. 2021, URL. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.

Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD holds a PharmD and is a retail pharmacist who has worked in the industry for roughly 20 years. Sutherby has extensive knowledge about medications, diseases, and conditions, and knows how to confidentially educate patients. Sutherby also creates content revolving around anything in the medical sphere with a focus on conditions and articles. Her published work has appeared in Managed Healthcare Executive, Formulary Watch, and PsychCentral, and spans a variety of topics, including cardiovascular health, immunology, sleep disorders, mental health, alcohol and opioid use disorders, vaccine education, and medication use and safety.
Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More