Inflammation: Causes, Complications, and Cures

Inflammation is a common problem and a vast majority of people experience it at one point or another. There are tests that look specifically for the presence of inflammation in our blood. Many inflammatory processes in our body do not produce symptoms, and many doctors and laboratories include inflammatory testing in a complete metabolic screening such as ESR.

What is Inflammation?

Although we’re inclined to believe that inflammation is never a good thing, it does serve a certain purpose. You see, inflammation is a natural response of your immune system to trauma, injury, foreign invasion of fungi, bacteria, and other micro-organisms. Acute or short-term inflammation promotes healing and it is a sign your immune system works. However, long-term or chronic inflammation could contribute to multiple diseases and health conditions, thus affecting your quality of life.

Causes of Inflammation

In general, inflammation can be caused by anything that activates our immune system to protect us from harm, such as physical injury, infection (bacterial, viral, fungal), certain diseases (autoimmune, inflammatory bowel), and tumours.

Certain people are at a higher risk of chronic inflammation. The most common risk factors for chronic inflammation are:

  • Advancing age
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Obesity
  • Periodontal disease
  • Sleep disorders
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Unhealthy diet

How is Inflammation Detected?

In order to detect the presence and degree of inflammation, your doctor will order an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test. The test, which requires a blood draw, measures sedimentation or rate of fall of red blood cells.

The ESR doesn’t diagnose a specific disease, it only serves to show whether there is inflammation and although some other options are available, this test is more affordable. Doctors may also require an ESR test to monitor how the treatment of your condition is shaping up.

Normal values of ESR include:

  • Women under 50: below 20 mm/hr (millimeters per hour)
  • Men under 50: below 15 mm/hr
  • Women over 50: under 30 mm/hr
  • Men over 50: under 20 mm/hr
  • Pre-puberty children: 3-13 mm/hr
  • Newborns: under 2 mm/hr


When left unmanaged, inflammation can have a negative impact on your health and cause many complications. It can also aggravate your underlying health condition. The most common complications include:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Colitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gingivitis
  • Cancer
  • Diseases affecting heart, kidneys, joints, and other organs and tissues

Preventing and Managing Inflammation

Acute inflammation is beneficial and needed, but chronic inflammation can be damaging to our health. We list here some useful tips for those who want to reduce the impact of chronic inflammation and stay healthy:

  • Keep weight in a healthy range, as obesity is linked to increased inflammation
  • Decrease intake of sugar
  • Reduce inflammatory foods from your diet (processed foods, refined sugar, meats)
  • Enrich your menu with anti-inflammatory ingredients and spices
  • Manage stress (meditation, yoga)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Follow doctor’s orders regarding management of your underlying health problem

Modifying your diet is one of the most effective ways to manage inflammation. The most potent anti-inflammatory foods include olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty fish, nuts, fruits, garlic, turmeric, chilli peppers, dark chocolate, green tea, and others.


While inflammation promotes healing, it can become chronic and negatively affect your health. The ESR test detects the presence and severity of inflammation and allows your doctor to monitor treatment of your underlying health condition. A healthy lifestyle can be your trusted ally in inflammation management.

If you’re interested in learning more about ESR and how it tests for inflammation, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!

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