What is inflammation and why it can be dangerous?

A man showing points of inflammation site in the body

If you have ever hit your head on the door or twisted your ankle, you would know what inflammation is. 

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to an injury or infection. It is the body’s healing system that is characterised by its four pillars – pain, redness, heat and swelling. 

The inflammation response can either be a change in the blood flow, or migration of fluids and proteins from the general circulation to the site of the damaged tissue as an act to cure it. This is the “good” inflammation. 

However, inflammation is not always caused by an injury or infection. There is a more insidious side of inflammation that you can’t usually see or feel it. It’s the response of the immune system without any warnings or symptoms, but still dangerous. This is the “bad” inflammation. 

Low-grade chronic inflammation, that people are not usually aware of, can affect almost everything – your cardiovascular health, increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. In fact, 3 out of 5 people worldwide die due to diseases linked to chronic inflammation such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and respiratory disease. 

What causes chronic inflammation? 

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause chronic inflammation that can be dangerous

Chronic inflammation may result when; 

  • The body fails to eliminate infectious organisms such as fungi or parasites remaining in your body for a long time
  • Exposure to environmental and industrial pollution that is regularly inhaled 
  • Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis that causes inflammation
  • Auto-immune disorders where the immune system reacts by attacking healthy tissues
  • Recurring cases of acute inflammation as a result of an injury or infection
  • Stress

What can chronic inflammation do to the body?

Apart from damaging the healthy tissue, untreated chronic inflammation can lead to

  •  DNA damage, tissue death and internal scarring 
  • Balancing issues – Chronic inflammation can cause dizziness when you walk, leaving you unbalanced. This can happen when inflammation occurs as a result of the rare condition of multiple sclerosis
  • Insulin resistance – Untreated injury or infection can cause inflammation to resist insulin that can lead to diabetes
  • Abdominal pain – Chronic inflammation can sometimes hit your hips and lower back along with your spine, causing pain
  • Inflamed muscles and tiredness – chronic inflammation may unknowingly attack the immune system to cause inflamed muscles and tiredness that could break down your muscle fibres
  • Build-up of plaque – Chronic inflammation as a result of excessive smoking can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries, causing a higher risk for heart disease and heart attack

When to see a doctor with chronic inflammation symptoms?

A man stressing out due to study load can suffer from inflammation due to stress

Here is a list of potential signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation that may require you to see a doctor;

  • Acid influx, constipation and diarrhoea 
  • Pain in your back, spine, hips
  • Sleeplessness and insomnia 
  • Infections that are persistent 
  • Weight loss or weight gain 
  • Myalgia and arthralgia 
  • Depression, anxiety 
  • Chronic weakness 
  • Mood swings 

Chronic inflammation can also cause no symptoms at all – wherein the only way to find out is through a blood test. Making the right lifestyle choices is the best way to prevent chronic inflammation. In case you’re worried, meet our doctors for a check-up.