Inflammation tends to be most noticeable in its acute forms, like infection and injury. But low-grade inflammation can something to watch out for as well. Looking for the signs of inflammation, even if they're minute, can help you prevent your body from experiencing the dangerous long-term effects of this health issue.
Your body is not meant to experience a constant state of inflammation. "The term inflammation comes from the root word meaning 'on fire,'" Dr. William Sears, author of The Inflammation Solution, tells Bustle. "[...] The root cause of inflammation is that your immune system is out of balance and confused." Inflammation is a good thing when your body is fighting infection, injury, or disease. If your body's signals get crossed, however, you can experience chronic, low-grade inflammation.
"While you may not have severe inflammation, living in a state where your body is always a little bit inflamed can still have adverse consequences on your long-term health," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. So even though many symptoms of inflammation seem subtle — like fatigue and vague pain — they are actually really important to pay attention to.
Here are seven signs you may have low-grade inflammation, according to experts.
1. You Notice Swelling
Swelling in your body, whether after injury or for no apparent reason, is an important cause for alarm. This is the case even if your swelling seems minimal.
"Low levels of inflammation are dangerous because they are easy to miss," Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, doctor of chiropractic and certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells Bustle. "When something is extremely sore or swollen, people are more aware of the symptoms and usually go to the doctor to get it evaluated." If you're experiencing even subtle swelling, it's worth bringing up to your doctor.
2. You Feel Tired For No Apparent Reason
Chronic low-grade inflammation can make you feel tired for what seems like no reason. While this symptom may not jump out to you immediately, it's important to keep an eye on if they persist.
"The effects of low-grade inflammation can mean that you have reduced cellular-energy availability," Backe says. "If you find that your constantly fatigued and you’ve ruled out an iron deficiency, then you might be suffering from mild inflammation" If you ever notice you're dealing with chronic fatigue, it's important to discuss the issue with your doctor.
3. You Have Unexplained Aches And Pains
One of the more vague, but common, signs of low-grade inflammation is general aches and pains.
"If you feel like you have more than your fair share of aches then you might be suffering from mild inflammation," Backe says. "When you haven’t put your body under stress and it still hurts, then it’s a sign that there’s something more going on." If you are in chronic pain, then you deserve the help of a doctor — especially if there's a chance that your symptoms are getting worse.
4. You Have A Low Mood
While low mood and depression can be caused by all sorts of physical and mental health problems, inflammation is a potential cause to consider.
"Another symptom of low-grade inflammation could be depression," registered dietician Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, tells Bustle. "Inflammation can affect the way the brain functions and has been thought to be a reason for someone to experience depressive episodes." The complicated factors that go into depression symptoms are one of many reasons that these symptoms should be discussed with your doctors, therapists, or other medical professionals whenever they come up.
5. You Feel Foggy
Brain fog is a genuine medical phenomenon that people with chronic health conditions deal with. Inflammation can cause this symptom as well.
"Low-grade inflammation can also induce neuroinflammation," pharmacist Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS, tells Bustle. "This can lead to fever, fatigue, anhedonia, depression, and cognitive impairment. These are collectively known as the 'sickness behavior.'" If you feel like you're dealing with cognitive issues, then inflammation could be the cause, and a doctor can help.
6. Your Joints Feel Tender
Long-term inflammation, even if it's low-grade, can cause damage to your body's tissues. So if your joints feel particularly raw or tender, then that's worth paying attention to.
"[Low-grade inflammation is] dangerous because the tissues wear and tear," Dr. Sears says. "[...] For instance, the joints [...] will get tender." Without consulting your doctor, you may not be able to get relief for your joint problems.
7. You Experience Stomach Problems
Inflammation can bother your digestive system just as much as it hurts other parts of your body. So if you have subtle stomach problems, then you may be experiencing low-grade inflammation.
"Emerging evidence suggests that low-grade inflammation alters gut microbiota, and this can lead to full blown inflammatory conditions such as Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis," Dr. Elmore says. "You may experience constipation, diarrhea, stomach upset, bloat, or foul smelling stool. This is because abnormal gut microbiota has been shown to induce human antigens and trigger aberrant immune responses." Even if these issues don't bother you much at first, they're important to try to fix so they don't turn into something more serious.
If you realize that you may be having issues with inflammation, your doctor may be able to help you alter your medical habits and lifestyle in order to help manage your symptoms better and potentially find long-term relief. Since inflammation symptoms can be so vague, you may need to work a little harder than usual to identify the cause of these health problems, but it's worth it for the sake of your health.