9 Surprising External Signs You Have Inflammation Inside Your Body
While inflammation is often thought of us an internal problem, it's often possible to spot signs of inflammation externally, in the form of acne, rashes, and swelling — among other things. "The skin is our largest organ and its relatively rapid cell turnover makes it a window to our overall health," Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD, a registered dietitian nutritionist, tells Bustle. So even though these symptoms may seem minor, try not to ignore them.
Do keep in mind, however, that not all inflammation is created equally. And not all inflammation is bad. "Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection and in acute situations, is a necessary part of the healing process," Koskinen says. "However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it becomes the source of diseases often related to aging, including diabetes, heart disease ... and Alzheimer’s disease."
If you notice signs of inflammation, let your doctor know so they can look into the underlying cause. And, consider making a few lifestyle changes. "Eat a variety of anti-inflammatory foods, such as those high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, teas, sea vegetables, [and] wild-caught fish," Dr. Josh Axe, CNM, CNS, DC tells Bustle. "Foods high in antioxidants help to reduce damage caused by inflammation by providing phytonutrients like vitamin C and E, curcumin, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and reservatrol."
It also never hurts to reduce your stress levels, get more rest, and follow up with your doctor if you're still having symptoms. Here are few external signs of internal inflammation, according to experts.
While acne can be caused by clogged pores, excess sebum, and bacteria, "one of the key triggers of acne is inflammation," board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD tells Bustle. "Specifically acne rosacea and painful cystic acne are the types that present with stress and hormone-induced inflammation."
For this type of acne to go away, it's often necessary to treat it internally, as well as externally. "Management includes antibiotics, retinoids, and hormonal regulation, when applicable," Dr. Shainhouse says.
2. Puffy Joints
Acute inflammation can occur after an injury — such as when you sprain your ankle. Chronically inflamed joints, on the other hand, are usually a sign of something more serious, such as arthritis.
"Internal inflammation associated with rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis and gout can present with joint pain, and joint swelling," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Knuckles, elbows, and toes can appear hot, red, enlarged, and painful."
3. Hair Loss
Hair loss has many different causes, including inflammation. And "different types of inflammation can be associated with different types of hair loss," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Localized inflammation around the hair follicle is associated with the autoimmune condition alopecia areata. It presents as discrete patches of hair loss in the scalp, eyebrows, or beard. It can also be severe and be associated with complete scalp hair loss, or even total body hair loss."
4. Eyelid Swelling
Inflammation can reveal itself in the form of eyelid swelling. "Allergic reactions can cause inflammation that present with swelling, inflammation, and sometimes itchiness," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Eyelid swelling alone can be associated with contact allergies or seasonal environmental allergies. It is generally treated with antihistamines ... and steroids."
5. Rashes & Eczema
Whether you have a weird rash, or an eczema flareup, "these are both considered to be autoimmune inflammatory skin conditions," Dr. Shainhouse says. "We now know some of the specific molecular pathways of the inflammation, and the newest treatment options block these molecules at various points in the pathway, in order to minimize symptoms."
6. Sensitivity To Light & Butterfly-shaped Rashes
Since lupus is an autoimmune inflammatory condition, it "can present in the skin in various manifestations, including: photosensitivity; malar rash (butterfly-shapes rash across nose and cheeks); mouth sores; scarring; and hair loss," Dr. Shainhouse says. "It is treated with immune suppressant medications to reduce symptoms."
If you've been diagnosed with lupus, then you'll already know to watch out for these external symptoms. But if you haven't been, something like a butterfly rash on your face may be your first sign, and speaking with your doctor is your best bet.
7. Bumps On Your Shins
Crohn's disease causes chronic inflammation within the intestinal tract, which can lead to all sorts of painful symptoms, such as bloating and diarrhea.
"Crohn’s disease can have skin manifestations including: oral and anal ulcers; painless swelling of the lips; anal fissures; [and] painful red bumps on the shins," Dr. Shainhouse says.
8. Itchy Bumps
Celiac disease is an inflammatory autoimmune disease, associated with gluten intolerance and all sorts of gastrointestinal issues, Dr. Shainhouse says. But it can also present externally. You might get "extremely itchy bumps on the knees, elbows, buttocks, back of the neck, and scalp," she says. "Treatment is strict gluten avoidance and topical anti-inflammatory ointments."
9. Flaky, Dry Skin
Another itchy skin condition, called psoriasis, can also crop up when inflammation is present. "Psoriasis is usually linked directly to inflammatory chemicals that are released by our white blood cells and will result in red, swollen and itchy skin with lots of flaking, dry skin," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "This is a chronic disease that requires constant treatment."
Let your doctor know if you spot any of these symptoms, as they may be your body's way of revealing signs of internal inflammation.