Chronic inflammation begins without an apparent cause — and doesn’t stop. The immune system becomes activated, but the inflammatory response isn’t intermittent, as it is during an acute injury or infection. Rather, it stays on all the time at a low level.
Over time, the condition can, among other things, damage DNA and lead to heart disease, cancer and other serious disorders.
“Unlike acute inflammation, which benefits health by promoting healing and recovery, chronic inflammation is characterized by persistent increases in inflammatory proteins all throughout the body and can damage health and promote several major diseases,” says George Slavich, associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, referring to small proteins called cytokines that the immune system releases at the site of an injury to promote recovery.
“People typically don’t know that they have chronic inflammation until it’s too late,” he says.
Experts believe individuals can reduce their risk by adopting lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet, improving sleep, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and finding ways to decrease stress and exposure to environmental pollutants.