Inflammation is a response by the body’s immune system to an injury, infection, or toxic substance. This response is essential to our survival: It is required for repair of injured tissues and to fight foreign invaders. Once the temporary inflammation (known as acute inflammation) is resolved, the common symptoms of pain, swelling, fever, and redness usually resolve. When this happens, we feel well again! Chronic inflammation, however, can have very different symptoms that are often overlooked. Chronic inflammation, as Bothell-based naturopathic doctor Nicole Anderson explains to her patients, is an ongoing immune system response that can lead to a number of serious health problems.
The symptoms of inflammation are the body’s way of getting our attention. It is Dr. Anderson’s goal to help patients understand what their body is trying to say. Simply treating or suppressing a symptom is like silencing an alarm without understanding what triggered the alarm in the first place.
Anything that keeps the body in a heightened state of immune response can be the cause of chronic inflammation. Some common causes are unresolved acute inflammation, certain diseases and disorders, exposure to irritants, and food allergens in the diet. Physical trauma, such as a fall or even an auto injury, can also be triggering factors.
Chronic inflammation symptoms can be as obvious as joint or muscle pain or gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhea or constipation. Unfortunately, they can also be much harder to identify. Fatigue or sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, respiratory symptoms, joint or muscle pain, and many skin conditions often correlate to longstanding inflammation. Just as important are signs that aren’t visible or painful, such as inflammation of the cardiovascular system, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Chronic inflammation is associated with a wide range of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Dr. Anderson has extensive experience with identifying signs of chronic inflammation, so she can often diagnose the problem based on clinical presentation and a patient’s particular symptoms. After an initial diagnosis, she can proceed with any number of laboratory tests in order to pinpoint the underlying cause. Diagnostic tools include food allergy testing, measuring white blood cell counts, and tests to explore inflammatory markers and toxic agents, such as heavy metals or organic substances.
Simply put, naturopathic medicine seeks to “treat the cause.” This goes far beyond putting a steroid cream on a rash to clear it up. In fact, Dr. Anderson’s approach to chronic inflammation is not to “silence the messenger,” but to truly hear the message. Why did the body produce that rash in the first place? A patient whose rash is the sole focus of a treatment in a more conventional medical setting may find that their body seeks out new ways to get their attention, from gaining weight to inflaming brain cells, leading to cognitive or behavioral issues or a myriad of other symptoms.
Remember that Dr. Anderson emphasizes treating the cause of the inflammation, not the symptoms. The most important initial treatment is removing the inflammatory substances themselves. Other options include natural anti-inflammatories, immune modulating herbs, and non-narcotic pharmaceutical medications, as well as non-steroidal pain treatment injections. Dr. Anderson specializes in trigger point injections, as well as PRP and ozone injections to address muscle, joint, or musculoskeletal pain due to inflammation.
For some people, a lack of meaningful answers related to their chronic inflammation has led them to be resigned to living with anything from acid reflux to chronic pain or frequent infections. If the source of the inflammation is never addressed, the body can continue to send out white blood cells in search of a fight. Eventually, these attackers may turn their focus to healthy tissue, as in the case of autoimmune diseases.