Sophia L. Thomas DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
Millions of Americans are struggling to make sense of difficult and sometimes inexplicable health issues. Increasingly, experts are pointing to inflammation to help answer some of the most pressing health problems – heart disease, Alzheimer’s, sleep apnea, cancer, depression, allergies and other problems can all be linked to an immune system stuck in overdrive.
Inflammation itself is a good thing – it’s your body’s critical and necessary knee-jerk reaction to fighting infections, injuries and toxins. Inflammation happens when your body sends out a physiological mayday signal to increase blood flow and transport immune cells to threatened tissue. Acute inflammation is obvious – pain, redness and swelling are telltale, visible signs your body is doing its job. But sometimes the body gets stuck in combat mode and stays inflamed for too long, doing more harm than good.
The truth is, inflammation is a major contributor in practically every major disease. Even though chronic inflammation is usually subtle and occurs deep within our cells, a haywire inflammatory response triggers disease processes that can cause serious problems. Chronic inflammation in blood vessels, for example, triggers the production of plaque, which is perceived as a threat, thereby perpetuating a cycle of more inflammation and more plaque, making a heart attack or stroke more likely. Likewise, obesity triggers a cascading inflammatory response that can cause insulin resistance, just as inflammation in the brain has been tied to Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, inflammation is tied to allergies, which now ranks sixth among chronic diseases, along with asthma, which has doubled in incidence since 1990.
How do you know if your inflammation system is out of whack? Here are 12 signs that warrant a conversation with your provider about the possibility that you suffer from chronic inflammation.
- You have inexplicable pain.
- You’re constantly tired.
- You get frequent headaches.
- You struggle with depression, anxiety or mood disorders.
- You have gastrointestinal problems.
- You’re in a constant brain fog.
- Your lymph nodes are swollen.
- Your skin is prone to rashes and breakouts.
- You have unexpected weight gain.
- Your nose is always stuffed.
- You have heartburn.
- You frequently get sick or have infections.
Treating inflammation can be as simple as eating better (go for leafy greens, olive oil, tomatoes, fish, fruit and nuts). Sometimes, supplements, medication and even steroids can also help, but the first step is to identify chronic inflammation before your body literally attacks itself and causes harm. A blood test – high-sensitivity CRP – detects low-grade chronic inflammation as a marker of disease risk. In combination with other risk factors, this test can help determine whether inflammation is to blame for your health trouble. Getting to the bottom of inflammation problems will help you feel a lot better and prevent serious diseases in the process, so talk to your health care provider, such as a nurse practitioner (NP), if you suspect chronic inflammation is literally making you sick. To learn more, visit www.wechoosenps.org.