How acute inflammation turns chronic

Inflammation may have started as the solution—for example, as a way to rid the body of a dangerous invader—but if it doesn’t turn off when it should, it instead can become the problem. The body’s immune response may keep inflammation going, long after the threat has cleared. Acute inflammation has now transitioned to chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can develop in any of several ways. One possibility is that the threat remains because the body can’t rid itself of the offending substance, be it an infectious organism, an irritant, or a chemical toxin. The immune system is pretty good at eliminating invaders, but sometimes pathogens resist even our best defenses and hide out in tissues, provoking the inflammatory response again and again.

Another possible scenario is that the immune system goes into “threat mode” when no true threat exists. In an autoimmune disorder, the immune system seems to become overly sensitized to the body’s own healthy cells and tissue. It reacts against the joints, intestines, or other organs and tissues as if they were dangerous. As the inflammatory response continues, it damages the body instead of healing it.

Unhealthful lifestyle choices, too, can cause ongoing inflammation. Smoking, failing to exercise regularly, or eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates can contribute to chronic inflammation. This ongoing inflammation increases the risk of many diseases—including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—that are collectively the leading causes of death worldwide. Three out of every five people around the world die from a disease that has been linked to inflammation.

Signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation

The signs of chronic inflammation are not as obvious as those of acute inflammation. No sharp twinge of pain as when you cut yourself, no swelling or redness will you see to alert you to a problem. Chronic inflammation can be widespread or more localized to specific areas of the body. Therefore the symptoms can vary considerably, such as:

  • fatigue and lack of energy
  • depression, anxiety
  • muscle aches and joint pain
  • constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal complaints
  • changes in weight or appetite
  • headaches
  • a “fuzzy” mental state (brain fog).

For additional advice about ways to reduce inflammation, check out  Fighting Inflammation, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14 NIV

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 NIV
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 NIV

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12 NIV
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 NIV

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7 NIV

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3 NIV
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20 NIV

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 NIV

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6 NIV

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