Throughout our lives, we are likely to experience inflammation. Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection or injury and can be a helpful tool in helping the body recover from viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, at times, inflammation becomes a constant presence in the body, at which point it could be causing more harm than good. 

So what is the difference between good inflammation and bad inflammation? We at UAB Medical West understand the importance of distinguishing common inflammation from something more nefarious, so we put together this helpful guide.   

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a process your body uses to protect itself from infections, injuries, and toxins. When something damages your cells, your body sends signals to your immune system to activate it and help fight off the intruder. Your immune system responds by sending antibodies, proteins, and increased blood flow to the affected area, resulting in inflammation. Under normal circumstances, inflammation can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. You may recall getting a paper cut and the area around the cut swelling for a short time. This type of inflammation is called acute inflammation. 

However, there are times when inflammation lingers, causing your body to exist in a constant state of alert. This type of inflammation is called chronic inflammation, and it could, over time, harm your tissues, organs, and healthy cells. Chronic inflammation can cause tissue death, DNA damage, and internal scarring if left untreated. 

Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation


While acute inflammation is easily noticeable by its symptoms of pain, redness, and swelling, chronic inflammation can have harder to notice symptoms. Common symptoms of inflammation include:

  • Body pain
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Recurring infections

Causes of Chronic Inflammation

 Chronic inflammation could be the result of several contributing factors:

  1.  Long-term exposure to triggering pollutants like industrial chemicals or environmental irritants. 
  2. Autoimmune disorders that cause your immune system to attack healthy tissues (rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, psoriatic arthritis).
  3. Untreated causes of acute arthritis (injury, infection).

Additionally, the following factors may increase your risk of developing chronic inflammation:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Chronic stress

Inflammation Treatments

An appropriate amount of inflammation can help fight off infection or injury. But when inflammation becomes chronic, there are several treatments available to help keep it at bay and prevent further damage. 

Lifestyle Changes 

Losing weight, changing to a healthier diet, and exercising can all help lower inflammation and reduce symptoms associated with chronic inflammation. 


Supplements like fish oil, turmeric, and lipoic acid may help lower inflammation. Although, consulting your doctor is recommended before including supplements such as these into your daily routine. 

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) 

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can effectively reduce inflammation and pain. These medications should not be used over a long period of time. If your inflammation persists, it's essential to see a doctor. 


Corticosteroids can decrease inflammation and suppress the immune system. Unfortunately, long-term use of steroids can cause other issues like vision loss, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. 


When to See a Doctor

Acute inflammation is your body's normal and welcome response to injury, infection, and toxins. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can cause lasting damage and should not be left untreated. If your inflammation symptoms do not subside within a few days and don't respond to over-the-counter treatment, it's best to consult your healthcare provider. 

UAB Medical West can help answer all your questions about inflammation you may be experiencing and whether you should be concerned about it. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. 



UAB Medical West in Birmingham, Alabama Cares About Your Health

Distinguishing normal acute inflammation from a more serious chronic inflammation is vital for your well-being. Our caring medical staff is here to answer all your questions about inflammation and advise on any necessary treatment. Contact UAB Medical West to make an appointment. We are serving Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, and Vance.