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Everything you need to know about inflammation

Learn how to reduce inflammation in the body

Most people have experienced inflammation at some point during their lives. It can occur when you have an infection or conditions like arthritis.

We cover the various causes of inflammation, common symptoms you may experience, and ways to treat it. If lifestyle adjustments don’t seem to work, at HealthExpress we treat various inflammatory conditions.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 31-05-2024

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's natural defence mechanism against disease, irritation, injury, or infection. It aims to protect against harmful substances such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants, and begin the healing process.

During the process of inflammation, the body releases chemicals that trigger an immune response to fight infections or heal damaged tissue. Blood vessels in the area widen to increase blood flow, bringing more white blood cells to the tissue.

What are the different types of inflammation?

There are three different types, acute, chronic, and subacute.

Acute inflammation

Acute inflammation can occur due to injuries, microbial infections, harmful chemicals, or as a reaction to immune system disorders. It can trigger a quick response and can become severe in a short period. The symptoms typically resolve within a few days or weeks.

Image of a woman with injuries

An example of this is when you get a cut or a splinter. This can cause symptoms such as redness, warmth, swelling, and pain.

Other possible causes:

  • Infections or illnesses
  • Allergic reactions
  • Injuries, like blunt trauma

Chronic inflammation

This occurs slowly and lasts for longer periods of time, from several months to years. It can be caused by persistent infections, autoimmune diseases, prolonged irritant exposure, or other underlying health conditions.

This is linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), diabetes, Alzheimer's, and even certain cancers.

Subacute inflammation

This is the period between the acute and chronic stages and can last from 2 to 6 weeks.

This is known as the regenerative stage, where there is new growth of connective tissue. Tissue in this stage is very tender, and so placing stress on the affected area can cause your symptoms to worsen.

What causes inflammation?

There are many different causes, the most common being:

  • infections due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi
  • physical injuries like a cut, scrape, or wound
  • damage from a foreign object (like a splinter)
  • autoimmune disorders
  • exposure to toxins, such as pollution or chemicals

Some lifestyle factors can also add to inflammation in the body, these include:

  • being inactive
  • obesity
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • a poor diet
  • stress
  • disturbed sleep
  • Smoking

Any of these causes can develop into chronic inflammation if left untreated.

What are the symptoms of inflammation?

Signs of inflammation differ depending on whether it is acute or chronic

Acute inflammation symptoms

Some common signs Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source of acute inflammation are redness, swelling, pain, heat and loss of function (like having a worse sense of smell during a cold).

Infographic showing the symptoms of acute inflammation

Chronic inflammation symptoms

Any of the following symptoms Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source can give you an indication that you may have chronic inflammation:

  • body pain
  • achy joints and muscles
  • tiredness and difficulty sleeping
  • depression, anxiety and mood problems
  • digestive problems like bloating or constipation
  • acid reflux
  • weight gain or weight loss
  • frequent infections

Symptoms can also vary depending on the type of inflammatory condition.

For example, in rheumatoid arthritis, people may experience joint pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue. Whereas, people with inflammatory bowel disease may have persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloody stools and weight loss.

How can I manage symptoms of inflammation?

Although acute inflammation doesn’t usually require any treatment, there are ways you can relieve discomfort. These include:

  • Resting the part of your body that is inflamed
  • Applying an ice pack to the affected area
  • Making sure cuts are sterilised
  • Engage in pain-free movement of the affected area

If you think you have chronic inflammation, contact your doctor or healthcare provider for advice and treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor may start by doing a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Your doctor may also give you any of the following tests below to make a diagnosis.

Blood tests

Certain blood tests can show if you have inflammation in your body. Typically tests cannot pinpoint the exact issue and can only show that something is not right.

C-reactive protein (CRP) test - CRP is a protein made by the liver. The level of CRP increases in response to inflammation. A simple blood test can measure your CRP levels.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) - This test measures how quickly red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube of blood. When inflammation is present the red blood cells clump together and fall faster.

No single test can determine whether you have inflammation or what caused it. Your doctor will need to consider each case separately before deciding on what treatment to give.

Other diagnostic tests

Sometimes, depending on your symptoms your doctor may request an imaging test to check certain parts of the body. In these cases, MRIs and X-rays are commonly used.

For inflammatory gastrointestinal conditions, your doctor may perform certain procedures to see the inside of your digestive tract. These tests can include a colonoscopy or biopsy.

What are the treatments available?

Acute inflammation is part of the healing process and often doesn’t require any treatment. However, if you have a condition that involves chronic inflammation, your doctor might suggest treatment based on your health and medical background.


Some medications and lifestyle changes that help manage this condition are listed below.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These are typically the first choice for relieving short-term pain and inflammation. Many of these medications can be purchased over the counter however, some may require a prescription.

Common NSAIDs include:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen
  • naproxen
  • diclofenac

NSAIDs can interact with blood thinners, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics, potentially leading to severe side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney damage, or increased blood pressure. Long-term use should be managed under medical supervision. Ensure you tell your doctor about all the other medications you take including natural supplements.


These are a type of steroid commonly used to treat swelling and inflammation. They work by dampening down the immune system’s response.

Steroids can be the main form of treatment for certain diseases. In other cases, they might be used cautiously or only when other treatments haven't worked.

They are available in a variety of forms, such as:

  • tablets
  • injections (given into blood vessels, joints or muscles)
  • inhalers
  • nasal sprays
  • lotions, gels or creams (topical steroids)


These are powerful treatments that target specific parts of the immune system. They come from a living source (a human or animal) or its products. They work by blocking the activity of a key chemical, cell or protein involved in inflammation.


Research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source suggests that a variety of environmental factors play a role in inflammation. Changing your lifestyle and adopting a range of healthy habits may reduce this.


There are some foods that cause inflammation, and some foods that reduce inflammation. Eat organic produce when possible, as it tends to have lower pesticide residues. Food you would find in a Mediterranean diet has also been found to be beneficial.

image of a healthy salad bowl
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
  • fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • whole grains
  • dark, leafy greens
  • olive oil
  • fruits
  • tomatoes
  • red meat
  • processed food
  • refined carbohydrates
  • trans fats
  • food high in salt
  • sugary drinks


Regular physical activity can be used to reduce inflammation. Add a mix of cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises into your routine.

The extent to how much exercise lowers inflammation is unclear, however, one study Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source shows that regular exercise can lower signifiers of inflammation by up to 19%.


Too much stress can also cause inflammation. Ways to reduce stress include meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga, which lower stress hormones like cortisol in the body.

Alcohol and smoking

Smoking is a well-known contributor to inflammation. Stopping smoking lowers harmful chemicals in your body and reduces inflammation, improving your health over time.

image of a glass of alcohol and cigarettes

Drinking too much alcohol can trigger inflammation in multiple organs, especially the liver. Reducing alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether can help lower inflammation and support liver health.


Good quality sleep is essential for regulating inflammation and overall well-being. Follow a bedtime routine and create an environment to support better sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

By following these lifestyle tips and changing your diet, you can improve your health by reducing inflammation and supporting your body.

When should I consult my doctor?

Inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process, however, you may find that your symptoms are unbearable or not getting better. If this is the case, then you may need to consult with your doctor.

Doctor consoling a patient

You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • A minor injury is not getting better
  • Your pain is extreme, or getting noticeably worse
  • You develop side effects to your medication

When to seek emergency help

Seek emergency help if your injury is:

  • A broken or fractured bone
  • A dislocation
  • An untreated minor injury that has gotten worse
  • An infection

Can I buy treatment for inflammation online?

You can buy treatments for various inflammatory conditions here at HealthExpress.

While we don't offer treatments for inflammation specifically, we offer solutions for inflammatory conditions such as asthma, weight loss, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), smoking cessation and more.

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