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Understanding How Chronic Inflammation Affects Your Body

Recently, we sat down with family medicine physician Dr. Michelle Folsom-Elder of CalvertHealth Primary Care to learn more about inflammation, its causes, how we can recognize it and lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our risk.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis and a host of other serious conditions. If you have chronic inflammation in your body, it’s important to reduce it. But many times people don’t realize they have it. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to fight back.

Q: What is inflammation?

During the course of our lives, at times we will be affected by inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation can be broken into two categories – acute and chronic.

When we are acutely injured or have an infection, inflammation is a normal and expected part of healing. Typically, we may get some redness of the area where an injury is, or we may feel fevers due to the inflammatory cells trying to fight infection for us. There may be swelling and pain when we have inflammation – like when we have a sprained ankle or broken bone.

Q:What conditions are associated with chronic inflammation?

If the inflammation persists, it becomes chronic and can lead to autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, lung disease, metabolic diseases like diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and gastrointestinal disorders. Factors that contribute to inflammation include environmental chemicals, infectious material like viruses and bacteria, and even exposure to radiation.

Cardiac (heart) inflammation is broken down into three variations. They include endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining or the valves), myocarditis (inflammation of the actual heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the tissues that surround the heart).

Most commonly, these inflammatory processes are prompted by viral or bacterial infections or autoimmune diseases (when our system recognizes a normal body part as foreign because it recognizes it incorrectly and tries to fight it). These inflammatory processes can lead to abnormal heartbeats, heart failure and coronary heart disease (blood vessel damage leading to a heart attack).

Q: What are some common signs of chronic inflammation?

Signs of chronic inflammation include difficulty with sleep and fatigue, some mood problems like anxiety and depression, body pain due to joint or muscle inflammation, digestive concerns like acid reflux, more frequent infections, weight gain and more.

Q: Can I reduce my risk by making lifestyle changes?

We can do multiple things in our daily lives to reduce inflammation. One important way we can make this positive change is to avoid toxins including certain inflammatory food items. Highly processed foods, fried foods, high sugar foods, and refined carbohydrates contribute to this process. These types of foods also contribute directly to the epidemic of obesity in our world, which is a risk factor for chronic inflammation itself. Interestingly, there are some foods that reduce inflammation. These include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, fruits and nuts.

Q: How can we reduce inflammation?

When we speak about inflammation we discuss prevention, treatment and management options. Preventive measures include vaccinations against illnesses that can trigger inflammation, avoidance of toxins and environmental inflammatory substances. You can also reduce inflammation by getting restorative sleep (both a good number of hours and quality of sleep). Eating healthy foods, drinking good amounts of water, and getting in regular exercise may also assist in reduction of inflammation. We can also avoid things like smoking, drinking excess alcohol, and using substances.

If you have chronic inflammation that is connected with a chronic illness, your doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant will discuss options for treatment. These options may include traditional medicines or non-traditional opportunities for treatment like physical and occupational therapy and acupuncture.


  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Pollution
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Smoking


  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Make time for exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Manage stress
  • Quit smoking
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