Inflammation is a normal part of your body’s response to injuries and invaders (like germs). It promotes healing and helps you feel better. But inflammation that happens when there’s no injury or invader can harm healthy parts of your body and cause a range of chronic diseases.


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?

Inflammation is your body’s response to an illness, injury or something that doesn’t belong in your body (like germs or toxic chemicals). Inflammation is a normal and important process that allows your body to heal. Fever, for example, is how you know your body’s inflammatory system is working correctly when you’re ill. But inflammation can harm you if it occurs in healthy tissues or goes on for too long.

When an invader (like a virus) tries to enter your body, or you get injured, your immune system sends out its first responders. These are inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells). These cells begin an inflammatory response to trap germs or toxins and start healing injured tissue. Inflammation can cause pain, swelling or discoloration. These are signs your body is healing itself. Normal inflammation should be mild, and pain shouldn’t be extreme.

But inflammation can also affect parts of your body you can’t see. Inflammatory responses that occur behind the scenes can help you heal, but other times, they can harm your health.

What’s the difference between acute and chronic inflammation?

There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is sudden and temporary, while chronic inflammation can go on for months or years.

Acute inflammation

This is your immune system’s response to a sudden injury or illness. Inflammatory cells travel to the site of injury (like a cut on your finger) or infection and start the healing process.

Infections in different parts of your body can cause sudden, and usually short-lived, inflammation. For example, bacterial infections like strep throat and viral infections like the flu can cause throat inflammation. Other bacterial and viral infections can cause inflammation of your small intestine (enteritis).

Acute inflammation may last for a few hours to a few days, depending on your condition.

Chronic inflammation

This is when your body continues sending inflammatory cells even when there’s no danger. For example, in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory cells and substances attack joint tissues. This leads to inflammation that comes and goes and can cause severe damage to your joints.

With chronic inflammation, processes that normally protect your body end up hurting it. Chronic inflammation can last for months or years. You may have periods where it improves and other times when it gets worse.

Researchers have linked chronic inflammation to a wide range of conditions (inflammatory diseases).


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What are the symptoms of acute inflammation?

When an injury to a specific part of your body occurs, you may notice:

  • Discolored or flushed skin.
  • Pain or tenderness that should be mild and only in the area of the injury.
  • Swelling (for example, knee inflammation).
  • Skin that feels hot to the touch.
  • Inability to use that part of your body as you normally would (for example, reduced range of motion).

What are the symptoms of chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation symptoms may be harder to spot than acute inflammation symptoms. You may have:


What conditions are associated with chronic inflammation?

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

Together, inflammatory diseases account for more than half of all deaths globally.

Possible Causes

What causes inflammation?

Injuries and infections typically cause acute inflammation.

Environmental factors, including aspects of your daily life and exposures to toxins, are the culprits behind most cases of chronic inflammation. Common causes include:

  • Low levels of physical activity.
  • Chronic stress.
  • Having a BMI at or above 30 (obesity), especially when excess weight is deep within your belly (visceral fat).
  • An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in your gut (dysbiosis).
  • Regularly eating foods that cause inflammation, such as foods high in trans fat or salt.
  • Disrupted sleep and circadian rhythm.
  • Exposure to toxins, including air pollution, hazardous waste and industrial chemicals.
  • Using tobacco products.
  • Regularly drinking too much alcohol.


Care and Treatment

How do you reduce inflammation in the body fast?

Inflammation doesn’t always need treatment. For acute inflammation, you can usually relieve discomfort in a few days by:

  • Resting that part of your body.
  • Applying ice or a cold pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every four hours or so.
  • Practicing good wound care for any cuts, scrapes or burns.

If you have chronic inflammation, your provider may recommend:

  • Supplements. Some supplements — like zinc, certain vitamins and omega-3 — may reduce inflammation and enhance repair. Always talk to your provider before taking any new supplements.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These over-the-counter (OTC) medicines reduce inflammation. Your provider may recommend ibuprofen (Advil®), aspirin (Bayer®) or naproxen (Aleve®). Don’t take NSAIDs for more than 10 days in a row without talking to your provider.
  • Corticosteroids. Your provider may give you an injection to decrease inflammation at a specific joint or muscle. Or they may prescribe medications you take by mouth. Be sure to follow your provider’s instructions on how to take your medication.

Is prednisone used for inflammation?

Yes. Prednisone is a type of corticosteroid. Healthcare providers prescribe it to treat many conditions that cause inflammation, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and vasculitis.

What foods reduce inflammation?

Many foods fight inflammation in your body. These include fatty fish (like salmon), fresh fruits and leafy greens, just to name a few. You may also use spices with anti-inflammatory properties, like turmeric, ginger or garlic.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce and prevent inflammation in your body. An anti-inflammatory diet is a general term that refers to a broad pattern of well-balanced eating. You choose some foods over others and adapt the diet to your needs.

If you want to make changes to your eating habits, it’s a good idea to talk to a dietitian. They can help you create a plan that’s best for you. They may recommend approaches like the Mediterranean Diet, which research shows can lower levels of inflammation in the body. Or, they might suggest the DASH Diet as a way to reduce your sodium intake and increase your potassium.

A dietitian will work with you to craft a plan that’s doable in the long term.

What are examples of foods that cause inflammation?

While some foods help reduce inflammation, others do the opposite. Some inflammation-causing foods include:

  • Foods containing trans fat.
  • Fried foods, including many fast food items.
  • Cured meats with nitrates, like hot dogs and some deli meats.
  • Foods high in salt.
  • Refined carbohydrates, like sugar, pastries or white bread.

How can I prevent inflammation?

You can’t modify many of the factors that cause inflammation. However, you may be able to lower your risk for chronic inflammation in some cases. Here are some things you can do:

  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (like walking) per week.
  • Avoid smoking and all tobacco products. Talk to your provider about resources to help you quit.
  • Eat mostly fresh or minimally processed foods and avoid highly processed foods.
  • Maintain a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Talk to your provider about ways to lower your risk of harmful effects from pollution or toxic chemicals.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Check in with your healthcare provider if you:

  • Have a minor injury that’s not getting better.
  • Have ongoing pain, swelling or stiffness in any part of your body.
  • Develop side effects from your medications.
  • Have questions or concerns about your treatment plan.

When should I go to the emergency room?

Seek emergency care if you have:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Inflammation is one of those words you probably keep hearing more often. It’s in news articles. It’s on TV. And chances are, someone you know mentioned it at one point or another when talking about their health. We can’t avoid hearing about it and, unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid experiencing it. Whether it’s a short-lived injury or a chronic immune response that leads to serious illness, inflammation can affect your life in small and big ways.

Learning how inflammation can affect your body gives you the chance to make some changes in your daily life to feel better and stay as healthy as possible. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for chronic inflammation and how to manage any existing conditions.

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 on 03/22/2024.

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