If you're experiencing signs your body has inflammation, it can crop up in the form of various symptoms, and be a sign of a number of different health concerns. Usually, inflammation is associated with joint health, since arthritis is one of the top causes of pain and swelling. But inflammation can be associated with other health concerns, beyond swollen joints.
While you'll want to tell your doctor, if you happen to notice any of these symptoms, keep in mind that not all inflammation is bad. In fact, "we have two types of inflammation: acute and chronic," nutrition coach Amanda Sauceda, MS, RDN,CLT, tells Bustle. "Acute inflammation is important to our health because it helps us heal. Think about when you twist your ankle and it becomes hot, red, and swollen. That is part of [your] body's response to help heal the injury." And it'll go away, once your ankle is healed.
What you want to watch out for are signs of chronic inflammation. "This is the type of inflammation that does more harm than good," Sauceda says. "Think of chronic inflammation like a fire that needs to be put out in the body. Chronic inflammation has a domino effect where it can trigger a cascade of symptoms that can negatively impact your health."
Chronic inflammation be triggered by a variety of things, such as your genetic predisposition, what you eat, a lack of sleep, and other habits, Sauceda says. (You can get inflammation in your gut, for example, due to food allergies.) Whatever the case may be, here are a few signs you have too much inflammation, according to experts.
1. You're Tired All The Time
Inflammation can be caused by too little sleep, as well as too much sleep. So, if you're falling short of or exceeding the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, there's a good chance you have inflammation in your body.
But why does it happen? "It seems that too little sleep or too much sleep throws the body's inflammatory response processes out of whack," Chris Brantner, sleep expert and founder of SleepZoo, tells Bustle. "As a result, your cells respond with inappropriate inflammation. It's almost as if your body treats inadequate sleep or too much sleep as it would an illness. It's as if it thinks it's sick and reacts accordingly."
Fatigue can also be a side effect of other inflammatory issues, so if you've been feeling exhausted — despite getting enough sleep each night — let your doctor know. They can figure out why you're so tired, and begin to correct the underlying cause.
2. You Have Aches & Pains
Do you have aches and pains that keep coming back? "Experiencing pain on a regular basis is a big indicator [of inflammation]," Cheryl Myers, RN, BA, chief of education and scientific affairs for Terry Naturally, tells Bustle. "If you are not in pain, but have pain at the end of your range of motion (like rotating your shoulders back or touching your toes), that is associated with inflammation."
Pain like this could be a sign that you have a type of arthritis, which is a major contributor to inflammation and pain in the body. So don't hesitate to point it out to a doctor, since this type of pain isn't something you should have to be dealing with.
3. You're Experiencing Digestive Issues
While we all have the occasional bout of diarrhea or moment of gassiness, ongoing symptoms like these could be a sign of chronic inflammation — but especially in the gut.
"Inflammation in the gut can cause bloating, loose stools, urgency, and cramping," Myers says. And it could be due to a food allergy, or something like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, or another inflammation-causing issue in your gut.
If you notice these issues, or feel as if you're struggling with digestive issues, let your doctor know. It can take a while to get to the bottom of gut health issues, since there are so many factors involved. But the effort is definitely worth it.
4. Your Lymph Nodes Are Swollen
Lymph nodes, which are primarily located in your neck, under the armpits, and near the groin, can swell up whenever something's amiss in your body, so it's important to pay attention to them.
"Lymph nodes are 'hubs' for the immune system," Jessica DeLuise, MHS, PAC, founder of Eat Your Way to Wellness, LLC, tells Bustle. "We often notice enlarged nodes in our neck when we have a cold or sore throat. That is a good thing. It means [the] immune system recognizes and is addressing the current issue," such as a bacterial or viral infection.
Your lymph nodes will swell as your body fights off the infection, and then go back down once you're well again. If your lymph nodes are always inflamed, however, or if they hurt, definitely let your doctor know as it could be a sign of a chronic illness or other underlying issue.
5. Your Nose Is Stuffed Up
"The body can react in a variety of ways when inflammation is present," Dawn Viola, health and nutrition expert and founder of This Honest Food, tells Bustle. "It's different for everyone, but common ways the body is trying to tell you something is wrong are: inflamed nasal cavities, which seem like a stuffy nose from seasonal allergies, watery eyes from pressure in the nasal cavity or behind the eyes," and related cold-like issues.
"Inflammation is the body's way of fighting off something foreign and protecting itself, and can occur for a variety of reasons," Viola says. "We're all probably most familiar with the type of inflammation that results from a bump or bruise, but inflammation also occurs when we are exposed to chemicals, pesticides ... or foods that we may be sensitive or allergic to. Lack of sleep and stress also lead to inflammation in the body."
6. Your Skin Is Breaking Out
"Basically, if there is something showing on the outside or something that isn't feeling right on the inside, there is most likely inflammation," Viola says, because internal inflammation can show up externally.
Many people with internal inflammation suffer from eczema, for example, acne breakouts, or even dry skin. This can be the body's way of telling you something's "off" internally, so don't brush if off. Let your doctor look into other possible causes of skin issues and breakouts, such as digestive health issues.
7. You're Struggling With Brain Fog
Believe it or not, inflammation can even start to affect you mentally, on top of all the ways it can impact you physically.
For example, "brain fog and the inability to think clearly can also occur," Viola says, "and can range from subtle, where you're just not feeling right but can't put your finger on it, to severe, where you completely forget what you're saying without being distracted, or are searching for words to complete your sentence."
Often times, once chronic inflammation is treated, symptoms like brain fog will start to lift. And one great place to start, when it comes to lowering inflammation levels in the body, is by making few simple lifestyle changes.
"Food is the easiest and least expensive way to control inflammation," Viola says. "Fast foods, convenience foods, restaurant foods, and anything highly processed leads to elevated levels of inflammation in the body, and when this is coupled with a diet low in fruits and vegetables, nutrient deficiencies can result, leading to more inflammation." So start there, by adding more nutritious foods to your day, and see if inflammation symptoms improve.
8. You Have Heartburn
Many people with chronic inflammation complain of digestive troubles like constipation and diarrhea, Viola says. But heartburn is something you should keep an eye out for, too.
In fact, studies have shown that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which was thought to cause painful heartburn due to stomach acids traveling up the esophagus, may actually be more related to inflammation.
According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it may be the body's inflammatory response that's causing pain and damage to the esophagus. And that may be helpful to know when treating the disease.
9. You Keep Getting Headaches
"With migraine and headache sufferers, they can be affected by what is called 'neurogenic inflammation,'" Dr. Ariel Blackburn, of Art of Health Chiropractic, tells Bustle. "A neurologic examination should be performed on patients who are having recent onset of new headaches/migraines or changes in previous headaches/migraines to rule out any underlying disease."
But again, many times inflammation can be lowered, and symptoms relieved, by making a few small changes. "Stress, tobacco smoking, and alcohol use can stimulate the inflammatory response and cause migraines [and] headaches," Dr. Blackburn says. "Relaxation techniques and exercise are wonderful to help decrease chronic stress." Which can, in turn, help decrease chronic inflammation.
If you notice any of these signs, let your doctor know. They can figure out if these symptoms are due to inflammation, offer ways to treat the underlying cause, and get you back to feeling like yourself again.
This post was originally published on 5/8/2018. It was updated on 6/6/2019.
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