Chronic Inflammation: The Link To Aging and Disease

Written by Ahmed Zayed | Last updated on August 4, 2023

We’ve all experienced it before - maybe you’re using a knife to cut some veggies for dinner.

The next moment, the knife slips and creates a cut on your finger. You wash your finger off under the tap and apply a bandage, but later on, you notice your finger is swollen. 

This natural response from your body is something that plays an important part in healing that cut. Your body sends cells to your finger to start the healing process - and a few days later, the swelling is gone. 

Chronic inflammation is often referred to in the 12 Hallmarks of aging. It’s something that affects so many people, yet we often overlook it. 

Oftentimes, we only discover chronic inflammation when it causes disease. Want to know more about chronic inflammation and what you can do about it? This article reveals everything you need to know. 

Understanding Inflammation

inflammaed limbs

We’ll start by diving deeper into the topic of inflammation and looking at what it is. Inflammation is a type of protective response that naturally occurs in your body. 

Let’s say you play sports and suffer a direct blow to your knee. It’s painful and soon after this happens, you’ll notice that the area starts to become inflamed. 

You already know this, but what exactly happens? As soon as the injury happens, your body will activate the immune system. 

When your immune system activates, it responds by sending out certain inflammatory cells to the area that got injured. 

In addition to inflammatory cells, the system also sends cytokines to the area, which then further stimulates inflammation. 

This reaction from the immune system is important, as it allows your body to start healing the tissue that was damaged during the injury. 

A similar process happens when you are exposed to bacteria or viruses, as well as to certain chemicals. Maybe you come into contact with someone who has the flu and the virus spreads to you.

Once your body identifies the presence of the virus, it sends out inflammatory cells in an effort to trap the pathogens. 

Acute Vs Chronic Inflammation

hand and arm inflammed

All inflammation is not the same and even though you can see swelling when you get injured, these responses can also affect your insides. It’s important to understand the difference between acute and chronic inflammation. 

Acute inflammation plays an important role in ensuring your body can start the healing process if you get hurt or perhaps fight against invading pathogens if you get a bacterial or viral infection. 

The inflammation usually only lasts a few days as your body helps with the healing process. 

If the inflammatory cells get sent to sites in your body in cases where there are no more signs of injury or invading pathogens, then it becomes chronic. 

In chronic inflammation, the immune system essentially causes damage to otherwise healthy tissue. 

This is also called low-grade inflammation and some experts have found [1] it’s a factor that contributes to all diseases. 

Process And Signs Of Inflammation

It’s important to understand the symptoms that signal the presence of inflammation in your body. 

Sure, it generally comes with soreness in the area that is affected, but your skin may also seem flushed. The affected area will feel tender and when you place your hand over your skin, it will feel warm to the touch. 

With this said it’s usually harder to detect chronic inflammation since it doesn’t tend to cause visible symptoms in an affected area. There are a couple of symptoms that you should look out for, though. 

Abdominal and chest pain have both been linked to chronic inflammation. Many people with this type of inflammation complain about consistent fatigue and may even develop a fever in some cases. When chronic inflammation affects your joints, it could cause stiffness in these areas too. 

Link Between Chronic Inflammation And Disease Development

Research has linked chronic inflammation to a large number of health conditions. If your body experiences low-grade inflammation, it means the immune system is constantly active and attacking tissue that is seen as pathogens. 

Over time, this chronic inflammation can cause damage to healthy tissue and even hurt your organs. 

It is also possible that the consistent lingering of an alert state in the immune system could cause damage at a cellular level. The result may include internal scarring, tissue death, and even DNA-related damage. 

Inflammatory Diseases

types of arthritis symptoms

As we’ve noted, if you have chronic inflammation, the effects can damage your tissue, cells, and organs. 

There are many chronic inflammatory diseases that have been identified and the relation between the condition and the inflammation is quite complex. 

If you have one of these chronic inflammatory diseases, the condition itself will contribute to inflammation. 

Now, if you already have low-grade inflammation, then the inflammatory responses in your body gets even worse. 

The following chronic diseases [2] have been associated with low-grade systemic inflammation:

  • Cardiovascular diseases

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Cancer

  • Asthma

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Cognitive decline

  • Dementia

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Crohn's disease

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Factors Contributing To Chronic Inflammation

There are many reasons why you may develop chronic inflammation. When you know the causes, it’s easier to take action from your side to prevent this from happening. 

A relatively common reason for chronic inflammatory responses is when you do not treat something that causes acute inflammation in your body. Perhaps you had an injury that initially hurt, but feels better - yet it’s not properly treated and the inflammation continues to linger. 

There are also lifestyle factors that can cause you to have chronic inflammation. 

For example, if you smoke and drink alcohol excessively, then these habits can result in the gradual development of systemic inflammation in your body. If you’re obese, then your risk further increases to have consistent inflammatory responses. 

Apart from these factors, it’s also important to understand the role that stress plays. If you have chronic stress, then your body constantly releases cortisol. The consistent exposure to cortisol can also result in inflammation becoming chronic. 

In cases where you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes healthy tissue for invading pathogens. 

This causes these inflammatory cells to be sent to healthy tissue, leading to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus. If you have an autoimmune disease, then you have chronic inflammation. 

Link Between Chronic Inflammation And Aging

You already know that aging is inevitable, but did you know that chronic inflammation can actually accelerate the rate at which you age? 

Aging itself causes changes to happen in your body. When you have chronic inflammation, it can promote an earlier onset of certain problems that come with age. 

Chronic inflammation can affect your joints, for example. This can lead to a faster degenerative effect on your joints, resulting in problems like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. 

Studies also suggest that inflammation results in mitochondrial damage [3] and can cause modifications to your epigenetics - both factors that are able to contribute to diseases associated with your age. 

Diagnosis And Detection Of Chronic Inflammation

If you’re concerned about chronic inflammation, then you can see a doctor to get a few tests done. 

While there are no specific tests that will tell you details about inflammation specifically, certain factors can be taken into consideration to identify the presence of inflammatory responses. 

biomarker graphic

It’s often difficult to diagnose chronic inflammation as signs sometimes only show up when it causes you to have symptoms of an inflammatory disease. With this said, here are some techniques that you may want to keep in mind:

  • Biomarkers: The most common biomarker that your doctor may look at is C-reactive protein, or you can call it CRP in short. It indicates the potential presence of inflammation in your body. Infections can also be detected with this biomarker. When hsCRP (high sensitivity C-reactive protein) levels are high, it indicates inflammation affecting your heart. 

  • Imaging Techniques: If your doctor is aware of chronic inflammation in a specific part of your body, they may request imaging scans, like X-rays. These scans can provide a visual presentation of the inflammation. 

  • Recognize Signs And Symptoms: It’s important to report symptoms like chronic joint, stomach and chest pain to your doctor. Any other symptoms should also be reported as they can help the provider identify the potential of chronic inflammation. 

Management And Prevention Of Chronic Inflammation

You’ve learned more about chronic inflammation, so now let’s look at what you can do about it. 

If you feel concerned about this type of inflammation, note that there are some things you can do to lower your systemic inflammation and prevent it from progressing. 

Let’s face it, having a drink now and then is nice. Perhaps you like to indulge in a donut as you walk back to work after lunch. Just one won’t hurt, right? Sure, it won’t, but these actions often become habits. 

Before you know it, you’re on your way to that donut stall every afternoon. 

When you hang out with a few friends, a few drinks aren’t enough anymore. A bad diet, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol are sure ways to guarantee chronic inflammation in your body. 

You don’t necessarily have to give up on the things in life that bring you joy, but understanding what moderation is - that’s how you can manage and prevent chronic inflammation. 

Try to eat more healthily - you’d be surprised at just how delicious treats and meals you can make that contribute to your well-being! 

Also, don’t skip those exercise routines. Physical training keeps the weight off and gives you an extra boost in health - plus it helps to keep inflammation levels down. 

You can also use NSAIDs or corticosteroids to manage low-grade inflammation, but be sure to speak to your doctor first. Some supplements, like curcumin, fish oil, and lipoic acid could also potentially help to lower inflammation in your body. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are signs of inflammation?

Chronic and acute inflammation are not entirely the same. Acute inflammation usually shows visually identifiable signs, like redness and swelling in the affected area. Pain and heat often accompany these symptoms. 

Chronic inflammation may make you feel tired, cause body pain, and result in weight-related changes that are unexpected. 

What are examples of chronic inflammation?

When you have chronic inflammation, it can contribute to various diseases. 

Some examples include type 2 diabetes, a greater risk of becoming obese, and developing heart disease. The connection was made when studies found higher levels of inflammatory markers in people who have these diseases. 

How do you treat chronic inflammation?

Pharmaceutical treatments will usually include either steroid injections or the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs. 

When you use NSAIDs, the medication will block the production of prostaglandins, which are compounds that cause you to experience pain and inflammation. 

What is the root cause of chronic inflammation?

Obesity is one of the major reasons why people have chronic inflammation.

You’re also more likely to experience this problem if you are living a sedentary lifestyle and when you make poor dietary choices.

If you fail to treat acute inflammation sources, then it can also become chronic over time. 

Can you get rid of chronic inflammation?

Yes, it’s possible, but you’ll have to make some important changes to your lifestyle to manage the chronic inflammation. 

Watch what you eat and make sure you get enough exercise, as these are important steps. Some medications may also help to reduce low-grade inflammation in your body. 

What is the strongest natural anti-inflammatory?

Turning to natural remedies can be a great way to avoid those side-effects you may feel when you take pharmaceuticals. 

Studies suggest that curcumin, found naturally in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound [4] that’s great for conditions like diabetes and arthritis. 


Inflammation isn’t always visible and sometimes it affects the inside of your body. These internal inflammatory responses can become chronic and won’t affect you the same way as an acute wound. 

Over time, chronic inflammation can cause problems in your body and even lead to disease. If you don’t feel well, have fatigue all the time, and experience symptoms of inflammatory diseases, it’s important to consult with your doctor. 

They can do a few tests to see if you have chronic inflammation and suggest an appropriate management plan to help you manage this underlying problem in your body. 


  1. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Retrieved from

  2. Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from

  3. Inflammation in aging: cause, effect, or both? Retrieved from

  4. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Retrieved from

About the author 

Dr Ahmed Zayed is a medical resident specializing in plastic surgery with years of experience in the field. He is also a writer for top-rated websites including Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, ConsumerHealthDigest, and Huffington Post

You may also like