Heard about inflammation, but confused about what it means for your health? Get some answers from this list of frequently asked questions about inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation occurs any time you suffer an injury or illness. It helps repair injured cells. That’s why you get swelling when you twist an ankle or get a splinter. This acute inflammation is a normal, helpful part of your body’s healing process.
Long-lasting inflammation, though, can become a problem. Chronic inflammation — sometimes known as systemic or low-grade inflammation — occurs even when there’s no apparent injury or illness.
Your immune system thinks there’s a threat and sends white blood cells into your bloodstream to start the healing process. If there’s no injury or infection for the white blood cells to heal, they stay in your bloodstream, causing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can last for weeks or even years without any noticeable symptoms.
How Could Inflammation Affect My Health?
Doctors have long known chronic inflammation plays a role in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma and inflammatory bowel diseases. Recent research, however, points to chronic inflammation as contributing to a number of other health conditions, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
One recent study by researchers at Harvard found that inflammation could play a part in the development of Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS).
Another study published in a medical journal supported by the American Heart Association showed strong evidence of a link between inflammation and the risk of future heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular events. Other studies have also found that many patients with heart disease also suffer from inflammation.
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What Can I Do to Lower My Risk?
There are a few steps to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation. Making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, lowering your alcohol intake, reducing your blood pressure and lowering your LDL cholesterol can help.
Some people even advocate an “anti-inflammatory diet.” There’s little evidence to suggest these diets actually reduce chronic inflammation, but most do actually include heart-healthy ways of eating. They tend to center around eating fruits, vegetables, and fish and cutting down on red meat.
Should I Talk to My Doctor?
If you’re concerned about the role chronic inflammation could play in your overall health, you may want to bring it up with your doctor.
Your doctor can help you take on the lifestyle factors mentioned in this guide to inflammation in a number of ways:
- Smoking cessation plans
- Nutritional advice from a registered dietitian
- Weight management plans
- Stress management techniques
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.