What Is Inflammation?

Jenna Hilton
April 20, 2023

Inflammation – the immune system’s reaction to injury or infection – is a natural part of the body’s natural healing process. External physical injury can present as redness, swelling, heat, and a tingly or painful feeling in the location of the wound. Internal inflammation occurs when our body is attacked by pathogens, allergens, or poisons and can sometimes be difficult to spot.

Inflammation can be acute (short-term) and useful, or chronic (long-term) and harmful. When it persists, inflammation intensifies existing medical conditions and causes other serious and even life-threatening illnesses.

This article explains the different types, symptoms, and causes of inflammation, offering a list of possible treatments for chronic inflammation.

Inflammation definition, signs, and treatments

What Exactly Is Inflammation?

When the body is exposed to offending external agents, such as viruses, bacteria, toxins, extreme heat (burns), and cold (frostbite), the immune system spurs into action. The body’s defense mechanism sends out white blood cells and other inflammatory mediators, such as cytokines (proteins that stimulate the growth of inflammatory cells) to destroy the invaders and repair the damage.

White blood cells (WBCs) are the vanguard in the fight against invading pathogens, infection, and tissue damage. Therefore, an elevated WBC count is a prominent biomarker of inflammation or infection.

Additionally, the immune system pumps more blood into the affected area to deliver more WBC and nutrients. This increased blood flow causes redness, stiffness, swelling, or pain.

In the short run, inflammation is essential for recovery from infection or physical trauma. However, if acute inflammation becomes a chronic issue, it causes lasting tissue damage, worsening and even causing certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS), asthma, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease.

Inflammation Types

There are two basic types of inflammation based on their duration and effects.

1. Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is the short-term response to infection or tissue damage sustained in an injury. Thus, it is beneficial and necessary for a full recovery. Normally, it resolves in a few days or in a matter of weeks, in more severe cases.

2. Chronic Inflammation

If the body fails to repair the damage or remove the harmful substances, inflammation becomes chronic. Sometimes, there is a prolonged inflammatory reaction with no apparent adverse foreign stimuli. The body perceives a constant threat and keeps flooding the system with white blood cells.

This slow, long-term inflammation turns into a chronic state closely associated with multiple medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, arthritis, allergies, or cardiovascular disease. It can last for months or even years without a timely diagnosis and adequate treatment.

Symptoms of Inflammation

Acute inflammation is physically apparent and directly linked to the spot of injury or infection. It includes symptoms such as:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Tingling
  • Tenderness
  • Heat
  • Stiffness
  • Pain

Chronic inflammation is less visible and not always in direct correlation with the medical root cause. Therefore, it is more difficult to spot and diagnose properly. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Acid reflux
  • Chest pain
  • Joint stiffness and pain (arthralgia)
  • Muscle aches (myalgia)
  • Chronic fatigue or insomnia
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Recurrent infections
Symptoms of acute and chronic inflammation

What Causes Inflammation?

There are many risk factors that can trigger or prolong a state of chronic, low-level inflammation:

  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Chronic stress
  • Obesity
  • Physical overexertion
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Untreated acute inflammation
  • Autoimmune disorders (systemic sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis, etc.)
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation

Certain medical conditions are closely associated with long-term inflammation. A prolonged inflammatory response can be linked to the following diseases:

  • Asthma
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

How Is Inflammation Diagnosed?

Early detection of inflammation can prevent it from becoming a chronic health issue. Accurate diagnosis is essential when choosing the most effective treatment.

There are several ways to diagnose the underlying cause of inflammation:

1. Physical Examination

A primary care physician (PCP) performs a routine check-up to determine if the inflammatory process is acute or chronic. This involves visual inspection of red, warm, or swollen areas, auscultation (listening to internal sounds with a stethoscope) and palpation (examining tender or swollen spots through touching). Your PCP will refer you to a specialist or perform a blood test to determine the next diagnostic step.

2. Blood Tests

Two types of blood tests establish the presence of inflammatory biomarkers.

  • The C-reactive protein (CRP) test measures the inflammatory response by determining the levels of CRP, the protein that the liver releases in reaction to inflammation.
  • The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test focuses on establishing the rate at which red blood cells (erythrocytes) settle; inflammation causes them to settle quickly and in clumps.

However, these two tests alone do not identify the location or the cause of inflammation.

3. Imaging

Different imaging techniques provide information about inflamed areas in the body (joints, organs, tissues). These are some of the most common imaging tests used separately or in combination:

  • X-ray - This diagnostic tool rules out a suspected bone fracture.
  • Ultrasound – Identifies bone erosion and crystal deposits.
  • CT scan - Abdominal CT scans determine the underlying cause of inflammation.
  • MRI This sensitive diagnostic tool detects inflammatory lesions and erosions in soft tissue.

4. Biopsy

This procedure involves taking a small sample of affected tissue and examining it under a microscope. It is used to distinguish inflammation from neoplasms, abnormal lumps or lesions that can be malignant.

5. Allergy Testing

An allergy test measures levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that the immune system produces in response to an allergen. This is a common diagnostic procedure in the case of asthma, allergic rhinitis, or atopic dermatitis.

6. Autoimmune Testing

Once all the test results come in, the healthcare provider can decide to narrow down the diagnosis by performing specific autoimmune tests, including:

  • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test – Establishes the presence of antinuclear antibodies in the blood. These cells attack the nucleus of healthy cells and large numbers of them indicate an autoimmune disorder. This test diagnoses conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, etc.
  • Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) – This type of test can determine the specific antibodies or antigens present in the blood. Physicians use it to confirm their assumptions about what autoimmune disorder the patient has.
  • Rheumatoid factor testing – This test looks for rheumatoid factors (RF), special proteins produced by the immune system. RF testing helps diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjögren syndrome, adolescent idiopathic arthritis, etc.
  • Immunoglobulin testing – The concentration of immunoglobulins in the blood helps to determine how the patient’s body reacts to infection. High levels can point to autoimmune disorders, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.

Note: Schedule allergy testing at Vibrant Vitality Clinic to measure your body’s immune response to food that may cause low-grade inflammation.

Allergy testing for inflammation.

Inflammation Treatment

Effective inflammation treatments combine good lifestyle habits with additional treatments. Which combination of treatments is the most effective for you will depend on your medical history and current health condition.

Below is a list of inflammation treatments known to prevent and treat inflammation:

1. Go On An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Eliminate foods that increase inflammation in your body, such as refined carbohydrates, fried or processed food, red meat, artificial sweeteners, and sugary drinks. Instead, stock up on anti-inflammatory food, such as whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and olive oil.

2. Exercise Regularly

Regular physical exercise has numerous anti-inflammatory effects in addition to managing weight and lowering your chances of diabetes. Physical activity stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and releases hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, which regulate the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

3. Prioritize Sleep and Deep Rest

Allow your body to recover from daily exertions with seven to nine hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts immune stem cells, contributing to inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases. A consistent sleep routine stimulates human growth hormone which helps fight off inflammatory processes in the body.  

4. Nutritional IV Therapy

A blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in IV therapy strengthens the immune system, restoring energy needed to fight internal inflammatory processes. Vibrant Vitality Clinic offers Inner Glow IV Therapy packed with all the essential anti-inflammatory nutrients.

Note: Learn more about what IV therapy is, how it works, and what to expect.

5. Supplementation

Fish oil, vitamins A, C, D, and mineral zinc-based supplements contain anti-inflammatory properties that can speed up the healing process and reverse some of the damage caused by inflammation. The popular detox supplement, Osmosis MD Immune Activator, boosts the entire immune system.

6. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen reduce the swelling and pain of inflamed areas. However, frequent use of NSAIDs can disrupt the gut microbiome leading to intestinal inflammation known as leaky gut. Therefore, use them wisely and in consultation with your healthcare provider.

7. Steroid Injections

Corticosteroid shots instantly relieve joint and muscle pain. Steroid injections are effective for inflammatory arthritis, asthma, systemic lupus, and sarcoidosis. However, doctors don’t recommend more than three steroid injections in the same area in the space of one year.

8. Vitamin Injections

Vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K have known anti-inflammatory properties as they help prevent the immune system from overreacting and causing inflammation.

Vitamin shots may reduce oxidative stress and repair damage on a cellular level. Vibrant Vitality Clinic offers vitamin B12 injections to increase energy and boost your metabolism.

Note: Read more about the numerous positive effects of vitamin B12 injections on our health and wellbeing.

9. Glutathione Injections

Glutathione is touted as the master antioxidant that plays a crucial role in fighting oxidative stress and the proliferation of pro-inflammatory substances. In a vicious cycle, inflammation depletes glutathione levels further prolonging inflammation.

Boosting your glutathione levels, therefore, helps combat inflammation and prevent serious disease. Vibrant Vitality Clinic recommends glutathione injections to patients suffering from autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and psoriasis. 

Note: Learn more about how to reduce inflammation holistically.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Acute inflammation is not a cause for worry. If necessary, the primary care physician prescribes antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection and leaves the short-term inflammation to run its course. Nevertheless, when the symptoms are particularly uncomfortable, over-the-counter pain relievers and cold packs can reduce the swelling, redness, and pain.

If you suspect chronic inflammation and want to help your body recover, try out Immune Boosting Therapy in consultation with our experts and discuss your lifestyle, diet, and further treatment options.


Acute inflammation caused by infection can easily turn into a low-grade, chronic problem. Additionally, several modern factors such as overconsumption of highly processed foods, exposure to environmental pollutants, and long-term stress can contribute to the development of inflammatory processes in the body.

The good news is that you can tweak the immune system to work for you instead of against you. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, healthy lifestyle changes, supplements and treatments offer a wide scope of opportunities to reset your immunity and root out inflammation.

Jenna Hilton
Jenna Hilton has been a practicing PA since 2009, specializing in Family, Internal Medicine and Medical Aesthetics. She attended Arizona State University where she received her Bachelor's Degree and graduated magna cum laude. She received her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies from A.T. Still University.

Jenna has been injecting neurotoxin and dermal filler since 2013. She received certification as a Master Injector in 2017 through Empire Medical in Los Angeles, California. She is currently working on a Fellowship Program in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her special interests include use of PLLA, Ablative/Non ablative skin resurfacing, PDO threads, hormone therapy and nutritional therapies to improve cellular regeneration and medically supervised weight loss.

Jenna Hilton believes in a multi-factorial approach, considering internal factors that accelerate aging and disease development. She always enjoys teaching. She co-founded Vibrant EDU courses at Vibrant Skin Bar and regularly performs one-on-one training with fellow injectors. She teaches Aesthetic and Advanced Injectable Courses at National Laser Institute. She has been named Preceptor of the Year and is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Midwestern University. She was born in Iowa, and lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, AZ.

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