When your body activates your immune system, it sends out inflammatory cells. These cells attack bacteria or heal damaged tissue. If your body sends out inflammatory cells when you’re not sick or injured, you may have chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a symptom of many chronic diseases, like arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.


Signs and symptoms of acute and chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation may cause flushed skin, pain or tenderness, swelling and heat. Chronic inflammation can be harder to spot with a wide range of possible signs.

What is inflammation?

When something foreign enters your body (like viruses, bacteria or toxic chemicals), or you’re injured, your immune system activates. Your immune system sends out cells to trap bacteria and other offending agents or start healing injured tissue.

This is the inflammatory response. The result can be pain, swelling, bruising or redness. But inflammation also affects body systems you can’t see.

What’s the difference between acute inflammation and chronic inflammation?

There are two types of inflammation:

  • Acute inflammation: This is the type you may be more familiar with — it’s the response to sudden body damage, like cutting your finger. To heal the cut, your body sends inflammatory cells to the injury. These cells start the healing process. Acute inflammation may last for a few hours to a few days, depending on your condition.
  • Chronic inflammation: Your body continues sending inflammatory cells even when there’s no outside danger. For example, in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory cells and substances attack joint tissues leading to an inflammation that comes and goes. This can cause pain and severe damage to joints. Chronic inflammation is long term — it lasts for months to years.

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What are the symptoms of acute and chronic inflammation?

Acute inflammation may cause:

  • Flushed skin at the site of the injury.
  • Pain or tenderness.
  • Swelling.
  • Heat.

Chronic inflammation symptoms may be harder to spot than acute inflammation symptoms. Signs of chronic inflammation can include:

What conditions are associated with chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation is involved in the disease process of many conditions, including:


Possible Causes

What causes inflammation?

The most common reasons for chronic inflammation include:

  • Autoimmune disorders, like lupus, where your body attacks healthy tissue.
  • Exposure to toxins, such as pollution or industrial chemicals.
  • Untreated acute inflammation, like from an infection or injury.
  • Autoinflammatory disorders, like recurrent fever syndromes, where there’s a defect in the cells in charge of stopping inflammation.
  • Repeated episodes of acute inflammation.

Some lifestyle factors also contribute to inflammation in the body. You may be more likely to develop chronic inflammation if you:

  • Drink alcohol in excess.
  • Have a high body mass index (BMI) that falls within the ranges for having obesity, unless that’s a result of being very muscular.
  • Exercise at your maximum intensity too frequently, or you don’t get enough physical activity.
  • Experience chronic stress.
  • Smoke.

Care and Treatment

How do you reduce inflammation in the body fast?

Inflammation doesn’t always require treatment. For acute inflammation, rest, ice and good wound care often relieve discomfort in a few days.

If you have chronic inflammation, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Supplements: Certain vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D) and supplements (zinc) may reduce inflammation and enhance repair. For example, your healthcare provider may prescribe a fish oil supplement or vitamin(s). Or you may use spices with anti-inflammatory properties, like turmeric, ginger or garlic.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These over-the-counter medicines lower inflammation. Your healthcare provider may recommend ibuprofen (Advil®), aspirin (Bayer®) or naproxen (Aleve®).
  • Steroid injections: Corticosteroid shots decrease inflammation at a specific joint or muscle. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis that affects your hands, feet, shoulder or knees, your healthcare provider may give a steroid shot in these joints. You shouldn’t have more than three to four steroid injections in the same body part per year.

What can I do at home for inflammation treatment?

You may choose to eat more foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. Some research shows that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies.

Foods that reduce inflammation include:

  • Oily fish, like mackerel, salmon and sardines.
  • Leafy greens, like spinach and kale.
  • Olive oil.
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts.

Eating too much of certain foods may increase inflammation. If you have chronic inflammation, you may feel better if you avoid foods that cause inflammation, including:

  • Fried foods, including many fast food items.
  • Cured meats with nitrates, like hot dogs.
  • Highly refined oils and trans fats.
  • Refined carbohydrates, like sugar, pastries and white bread.

How can I prevent inflammation?

You may decrease your risk of chronic inflammation by developing healthier lifestyle habits. Some of these habits include:

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider about inflammation?

Check in with a healthcare provider if you experience a worrisome injury. Also talk with a provider if you have ongoing pain, swelling, stiffness or other symptoms. A healthcare expert can narrow down the cause and find ways to help you feel better.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Inflammation is an essential part of your body’s healing process. It occurs when inflammatory cells travel to the place of an injury or foreign body like bacteria. If inflammatory cells stay too long, it may lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a symptom of other health conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis. Your healthcare provider may recommend medication or at-home management. You can reduce inflammation by eating anti-inflammatory foods and managing stress.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/20/2023.

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