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Understanding the Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Understanding the Causes of Chronic Inflammation

If you’ve ever had a pimple, stubbed a toe, or grazed your knee, you are already familiar with the pain, swelling, redness, and loss of function that inflammation causes.

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury or infection. Most times, it’s a temporary state that helps your body’s defenses tackle the root cause and initiate the healing process. It’s often a short-lived or acute inflammation that subsides once the threat is gone.

Several causes of low-grade chronic inflammation include physical inactivity, obesity, diet, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins and tobacco smoke.

Chronic inflammation affects many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune conditions, and neurodegenerative disorders. It also impacts your mental health. Research suggests it contributes to mood disorders, cognitive decline, and a diminished quality of life. When it comes to inflammation, there is also evidence that Black patients typically experience inflammation at higher levels than White patients which may explain the overall poorer health of African Americans.

Your healthcare provider may order a lab test to check your high sensitivity c-reactive protein (hsCRP) level which can aid in detecting chronic inflammation. Measuring CRP levels may also be helpful in assessing cardiovascular risk.

Inflammation and Heart Disease

Chronic inflammation is persistent and can last for weeks to months and years. Inflammation can cause damage to the blood vessels which can increase your risk of heart disease. Inflammation plays an important role in the development and progression of build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is also an underlying cause of heart disease. It is a common occurrence in patients who have had a stroke or who are living with heart disease, but it can be prevented.

Cholesterol-lowering medications called statins appear to reduce inflammation in arteries and have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with inflammation.

How to manage chronic inflammation

Managing chronic inflammation depends on the cause. Your care team will work with you to determine the best way to prevent or treat the condition. Some helpful tips to promote an anti-inflammatory lifestyle include:

  • Eat a diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber
  • Make time to exercise regularly
  • Manage stress: deep breathing, grounding exercises, and meditation may help
  • Improve your sleep aiming for about 8 hours a day
  • Maintain a healthy weight: too much or too little for your height and age could make you more vulnerable to chronic inflammation
  • Ask your doctor if supplements with anti-inflammatory properties, such as curcumin, green tea, fish oil, and vitamin C might help you

What else can you do?

Clinical trials may be a way to learn more about inflammation and treatment. There is a clinical study underway for patients with inflammation. Ask your doctor if a clinical trial is right for you. Click here if you would like to learn more about inflammation when it co-exists with heart disease and kidney disease, and if you may be eligible to participate in this trial.


This article is sponsored by Novo Nordisk.

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  1. Inflammation and Mental Health Symptoms – Psychology Today
  2. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span – PMC
  3. How much physical activity do adults need? | CDC
  4. Simons, R.L. (2021) Racial Discrimination, Inflammation, and Chronic Illness among African American Women at Midlife: Support for the Weathering Perspective
  5. Inflammation and Heart Disease | AHA
  6. Ridker, P.M. (2008) Rosuvastatin to Prevent Vascular Events in Men and Women with Elevated C-Reactive Protein
  7. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls | NIH