My introduction to chronic inflammation was rather sudden. For about a month, I had been extremely fatigued. When I started having chest pains, my GP told me to go to the emergency room.
While in the emergency room, the attending physician surveyed all the patients, which were in various stages of disease. He broadly waved his arms, encompassing us all, and said, “Everyone is here because of inflammation.” Had I not been in shock after just learning my blood pressure was 190, I would have asked a pertinent question like, “Huh?”
I left the hospital two weeks later with an emergency dialysis catheter in my chest, high blood pressure meds, and stage-5 kidney disease. That’s when I found out that my kidneys were operating at 10% capacity and I was at stage 5 chronic kidney disease. My kidneys had failed. You know you’re in trouble when the nurse asks if you want to talk to a priest or a rabbi.
Since that day and I have spent time on dialysis and have been have had a successful kidney transplant. The doctors were never able to determine the cause of my kidney failure, so I have no answers for the “why,” but I never forgot the words of the doctor, “…because of inflammation.”
Even writing this post, I have so many questions about inflammation. I thought inflammation helped your body heal. How do you get chronic inflammation and how can you get rid of it? Is it genetic? Is it throughout your entire body or does it congregate in a specific area? Lots of questions. I can’t cover all these questions in one post so I’m going to cover basic inflammation, where it all begins.
What’s the difference between inflammation and chronic inflammation?
Inflammation is the normal, healthy way the body responds to injury or attack on the immune system. On the surface (literally), inflammation may show up as heat, redness, pain swelling, and puss may be involved. This is what you experience after getting a cut, scrape, or bite. If you have a sore throat, cold, or flu, inflammation will be soldiering on. It’s the body’s way of healing your wounds and getting rid of viruses, fungus, and unwanted bacterium. Its called acute inflammation and lasts until it gets the job done.
Chronic inflammation is another story; the body’s protective response mechanism never stops working. It’s a low-grade inflammation at the cellular level and is described as the “silent killer.” It may be present without any obvious signs or pain and go undetected for years. I probably had chronic inflammation for years but had zero clues I was even ill, all while my kidneys were silently being destroyed.
There is a laundry list of conditions affected by chronic inflammation such as; rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s disease, Addison’s disease, Crohn’s Disease, chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease, Lupus, migraines, thyroid issues, fibromyalgia, GERD, kidney disease, adrenal gland fatigue, eczema and psoriasis, various allergies, and the list goes on and on.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Remember inflammation is how the body naturally protects itself from injury or attack. Outside forces, which can be an unknown irritant to the immune system, can go completely undetected. The body sees this irritant as a constant threat and goes to work getting rid of the irritant.
But what if the irritant never goes away, or is constantly reintroduced? The body would be in a constant attack mode with non-stop inflammation causing chronic inflammation.
An example of chronic inflammation caused by a bacterium would be Lyme disease. If three weeks of antibiotic treatment can’t rid the body of the bacterium, Borrelia Burgdorferi, the disease has progressed to Chronic Lyme disease. Chronic inflammation is responsible for many of the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease, which include, flu like symptoms, facial palsy, extreme fatigue, numbness, swelling, neck pain, headaches, heart problems, and more. You can find more about Lyme disease on this post.
An autoimmune disease, of which there are hundreds, develops when your immune system can’t differentiate between it’s own healthy cells and foreign germs or pathogens. The body begins to attack its own healthy tissue triggering chronic inflammation. One example of an autoimmune disease would be Lupus. The body goes into stealth mode and inflammation becomes chronic, resulting in symptoms such as extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, fever, skin rashes, skin rashes, hair loss and more.
Can chronic inflammation ever heal?
To get rid of chronic inflammation, you have to discover and eliminate what is attacking your body. For example, I’ve had a kidney transplant and now have a healthy kidney, but do I still have chronic inflammation? Probably, unless I find out what caused the chronic inflammation in the first place.
According to Dr. Hyman, an expert in Functional Medicine, the only way to get to the root of disease is to understand how your personal environment (your diet, stress, exercise, radiation, trauma, and toxins in food, air, and water) interacts with your genes to determine your state of health or disease. He believes that our health is determined by the interaction of our genes and our environment. Your lifestyle, stresses, genes, environment and how they interact with your biology to create imbalances that lead to the body’s inability to heal from a disease. So truly, there is no definitive answer because everyone responds to his or her environmental stresses in a different way.
How do I know if my body is inflamed?
The short answer is that you probably always have some form of inflammation going on. Many people feel healthy, but have inflammation smoldering inside their bodies. Some of the not-so-obvious signs of inflammation might include acne, food cravings, binge eating, unexplainable weight gain, water retention, high blood pressure, ulcers, joint pain, stiffness, and chronic fatigue, just to name a few. Chronic inflammation can show up in a so many ways that might seem inconsequential but can lead to a wide array of health problems.
Like me, you may have experienced (or be experiencing) one or many of these symptoms but never thought that chronic inflammation could be the cause. Since it’s so hard to tell if you have chronic inflammation, it’s a good idea to bring any symptoms to your doctor’s attention. I’m embarrassed to say that I had join pain for about ten years, yes that’s right, ten years. I never brought this to my doctor’s attention because I just thought it was part of getting older. I wished I had listened to my body because that was a sign that chronic inflammation was attacking my body. When I started dialysis and the process of having toxins cleaned from my blood, all my joint pain disappeared.
Now I’m working to get to the root of my environmental influences on my health. It’s like a big puzzle. I’m changing my diet and looking at what I put on my skin for starters. Putting all the pieces together will be a treasure hunt, the treasure being improved health. And for those of us who have experienced chronic inflammation and other health issues, health is the greatest treasure of all.
All the Best,