Putting out the Fire: Chronic Inflammation

What is inflammation?

The word inflammation comes from the Latin inflamatio, which means “to set on fire.” It is our body’s natural protective response to injury or infection with the goal to remove the cause of the injury and initiate the process of repair. The four main signs of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling and pain. You can recognize the role inflammation plays in a variety of diseases as their names often end with “-itis,” the suffix denoting inflammation. So, dermatitis is inflammation of the skin, tonsillitis, of the tonsils, and so on.

Different kinds of inflammation
We all recognize and know acute inflammation. A sliver stuck in a fingertip hurts, gets red and hot, and swells up. We step the wrong way and twist an ankle causing pain, swelling and redness or bruising. Basic treatment for acute inflammation is based on four steps that go under the acronym RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation. We may also take anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and in severe cases, use steroids such as cortisone or prednisone.

What we don’t often realize is that chronic inflammation, which has subtle signs and symptoms, may go undetected for decades and is a causative or contributing factor to most of the chronic, degenerative and life-threatening diseases we face. Chronic inflammation in the circulatory system is increasingly being recognized as a major factor in heart attacks, stroke and blood vessel disease, the major causes of death in both men and women.

How do I know if I have undetected low lying chronic inflammation?
There are many risk factors which can cause chronic inflammation. Your doctor can discuss this with you on your initial visit. Sensitive chemical markers run by specific lab tests will be able to determine your level of chronic inflammation. One such example is called C – Reactive Protein high sensitivity, which is now becoming a common screening test for cardiovascular disease risk.


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