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The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation

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April 7, 2024

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to harmful toxins, infection, and injury. Your immune system is designed this way to repair damaged cells and begin the healing process, but when you experience long-term inflammation, it can lead to a variety of debilitating issues. We want to discuss the difference between acute and chronic inflammation and how inflammatory balance is key for managing autoimmune conditions.

Acute Inflammation

acute inflammation in knee

When you face a sudden illness or injury, your body will send white blood cells to protect the area and speed up the healing process. This can result in some common symptoms of acute inflammation which include:

  • Pain or tenderness at the injury site
  • Discolored skin at the injury site
  • Swelling around the injury site
  • Skin is hot to the touch
  • Reduced range of motion

Examples of acute inflammation are a sprained ankle, a cut or scrape, acute bronchitis, strep throat, or other viral infections. With time and the support of lifestyle/diet and intervention, this type of inflammation usually resolves within a shorter period of time. Prolonged inflammation can quickly turn into long-term inflammation, which we will talk about next.

Chronic Inflammation

When your body is fighting infection and inflammation for long periods of time (more than 3 months), your immune system can start to send attacking white blood cells to the surrounding tissues and organs even when there is no threat of infection. This is an autoimmune response, meaning that your body is quite literally working against you. You might think of inflammation as no big deal but in reality, the “bystander effect”, which is the damage caused by inflammation is no joke! An example of bystander inflammation is the long-term changes found in Rheumatoid arthritis – hands and feet are the most common targets and the result may be permanent impairment in your ability to use them.

What causes chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of serious health conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease. As previously mentioned, inflammation can be a factor in autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s, Graves, Crohn’s, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Other causes can stem from obesity, diet, stress, sleep disorders, age, and lifestyle habits such as smoking. The longer your body stays in a state of constant inflammation, the worse your symptoms can become.

What are possible signs of chronic inflammation?

person dealing with chronic inflammation

The difference between acute and chronic inflammation can be seen in the symptoms you’re experiencing. Unlike the pain, redness, and swelling of acute inflammation, a few signs that you could have chronic inflammation include:

  • Fatigue/nighttime insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint/muscle stiffness and pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Mouth sores
  • Mood disorders including brain fog
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • GI issues such as constipation, diarrhea, or acid reflux
  • Being sick often
  • Lower body swelling
  • Legs and hands constantly cold

What are the best ways to fight chronic inflammation?

The best things you can do for your body to decrease inflammation have to do with the foods you consume and lifestyle habits you have. These tips will not only encourage your body to heal itself but will help you to feel your best:

  1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Fruits and vegetables such as cruciferous, berries, and dark leafy greens are excellent sources of nutrients that help your body fight inflammation.
  2. Add Omega-3s: These fatty acids have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. If you don’t eat or like fish such as tuna or salmon, you may consider adding an Omega-3 supplement to your routine.
  3. Eat less refined foods: Fried foods, soda, energy drinks, and processed carbohydrates can significantly increase inflammation throughout the body.
  4. Prioritize exercise and sleep: Moving your body daily greatly improves your overall mental and physical health and can lower your risk for chronic conditions. Sleep should also be a priority– adults need at least 8 hours of high-quality sleep each night.
  5. Find ways to cope with stress: Chronic stress is another leading factor in health decline. You don’t have to try to cope alone, help and resources for anxiety and depression are always available. Simple mindfulness practices are also great for lowering stress levels– try getting outside early and breathing in the fresh air, as well as yoga, meditation, or journaling!

Our Holistic Approach to Chronic Inflammation

autoimmune specialists

If you’re dealing with the effects of chronic inflammation, or are just seeking answers regarding your symptoms, our team of autoimmune experts is here to help! We use a functional medical approach to patient care, meaning that we take a look at several aspects of your health in order to determine the best course of action. We utilize thorough diagnostic testing, natural therapies, supplements, nutrition, and other holistic treatments, but most importantly, we take the time to listen to your needs and help you take control of your health. Learn more about the conditions we support here at Dr. Autoimmune, and let us know any questions you have about the difference between acute and chronic inflammation.

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