The Difference Between Acute v/s Chronic Inflammation
Swelling and fever are examples of acute inflammation at work. This type of inflammation serves a distinct purpose in helping you recover. Some temporary pain or soreness can remind you to take it easy and rest, or even stay off that ankle after a bad turn.
Think of acute inflammation as having 3 phases:
- Inflammation activates—responding to an issue such as injury or foreign bacteria. Cells release key molecules that act as “flares,” and the body responds by sending oxygen, nutrients and white blood cells.
- In the restore phase, the work of healing is carried out. Tissue repair begins and new cells and blood vessels are formed if needed.
- The last phase is to recover—preparing for the next round of work. The area of injury has re-stabilized and immune cells rebalance. The system resets and gets ready for the next challenge.
Chronic inflammation is different. This is when your body stays in a perpetual state of activation and your immune system continues to deliver white blood cells.
Your body acts like it’s under constant threat and it continues to fight in the form of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can last for weeks, months or a lifetime. For more information about the most common foods that cause inflammation, go here.
Think of inflammation like having a garden that you want to keep well hydrated. If you turn your sprinkler on for a short time each day to water your garden, you’ve created a nice, manageable cycle of addressing and resolving the problem of dryness as it arises. But what if you left your sprinklers on for two weeks straight? You would have quite a mess on your hands! This is like what happens in your body with chronic inflammation and why balance is necessary. You wouldn’t want to shut off inflammation altogether, because then your body would be missing a key function (think not watering your garden at all).
You want to avoid a prolonged, unnecessary response that doesn’t turn off
Symptoms of Inflammation
As mentioned above, soreness, swelling and fever are common symptoms of acute inflammation and show that the immune system is doing its job. These are easy to spot and manage. They are basically telling your body to rest & recover!
Symptoms of whole-body, chronic inflammation are trickier and may even be undetectable (it is sometimes called “silent” inflammation).
Check in with your healthcare provider if you’re having lasting issues, such as fatigue or feeling generally unwell. Other common signs include: recurring stomach/abdominal pain, difficulties sleeping, recurring joint & muscle pain, sadness / social withdrawal, cognitive decline, loss of sex drive, recurring headache/fever.
It is possible to run tests to look for certain types of proteins that show whether you may need extra inflammation-balancing support. Speak to your healthcare provider for more information on these.
In health terminology, any disease with “-itis” in the name has associations with inflammation
Arthritis is a common example of chronic inflammation. It’s a continuing immune response in the joints that is unable to self-regulate or resolve.
The immune system turns on automatically (hence the term auto-immune disease) and does not turn back off. The once helpful lymphocytes and macrophages now actually work against the body’s joint structure, resulting in pain and limited motion.
Another type of inflammation you may be unaware of is neuroinflammation.
Another type of inflammation you may be unaware of is neuroinflammation, an inflammatory response in the brain, often associated with aging.
As we age, an immune response may be triggered in the brain and the long-term inflammation that occurs may increase our odds of becoming depressed or anxious, or suffering from cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Another common one is inflammatory conditions within the digestive tract, such as gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and/or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers have also linked heart disease, diabetes and cancer to long-term, chronic inflammation.
Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have concerns or questions about any condition or disease, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).