Most people have heard of inflammation and know it can be a good thing when it comes to fighting off infection or injury.
Over time, however, chronic inflammation may negatively impact bones, muscles, joints and organs, leading to much more serious problems. Research suggests that chronic inflammation can increase your risk for serious diseases, such as arthritis and autoimmune disorders.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
Inflammation is the natural process by which the immune system activates, intending to protect against potentially dangerous conditions. Some inflammation is normal.
“Without inflammation and activation of inflammatory cells, the body would be susceptible to viruses, bacteria and other invaders,” explained Texas Orthopedics rheumatologist Dr. Robert Koval, who specializes in treating autoimmune and inflammatory disorders such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
When inflammation gets out of control, it can occur and persist. Chronic inflammation can lead to problems such as various forms of arthritis, cancer, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cognitive decline and dementia. The longer the inflammation persists, the greater chance of developing one of these chronic illnesses.
Causes of chronic inflammation include untreated infection and injury, autoimmune disorders, long-term exposure to irritants, smoking, obesity, alcohol and chronic stress.
Chronic Inflammation Symptoms
Inflammation can manifest into many symptoms, including:
- redness, caused by vessels dilating
- swelling, caused by fluid going to affected tissues
- heat, caused by increased blood flow
- joint pain
When the immune system recognizes one’s own cells as foreign and begins to fight them off, inflammation can lead to many autoimmune illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis and others.
How to Lower Inflammation
The good news is people can take steps to hinder excessive inflammation.
Controlling weight and limiting stress make a huge impact on fighting inflammation. Keeping the body in motion goes a long way toward limiting inflammation and improving mental health.
Exercise programs should be individualized, but Dr. Koval recommends 30 minutes or more of physical exercise at least five days per week. Low impact activities such as yoga and pilates can help reduce stress and improve state of mind.
Some diets may be anti-inflammatory in nature, including limiting processed foods, alcohol and excessive amounts of red meat. Olive oil, fruit, vegetables (especially leafy greens), tomatoes, nuts, plenty of water, whole grains and fatty fish are great food choices for those trying to limit inflammation.
Avoiding smoking is very important as well. Smoking is extremely pro-inflammatory, leading to the many hazards we have learned over the years.
“Certainly genetics can factor into this, but there are things we can do to limit development of inflammation,” said Dr. Koval.
If you have questions about our orthopedic, spine or rheumatology services, or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, book online or call (512) 439-1000.