Lab Testing for Chronic Inflammation
Chronic Inflammation: What is it and how can we identify it?
Chronic inflammation is harmful to the body creating many different disease states (see picture).
It is important to remember however, that inflammation is a normal defensive function of the body. Some inflammation can be healthy and can eliminate damaged cells as well as provide protection from attacks by microbes and toxins both externally and internally. But the problem lies when there is too much inflammation and it is chronically throughout the entire system, then we look to inflammation as the cause of many health conditions. Inflammation is related to all types of pain and health conditions: from a swollen sprained ankle to fibromyalgia, heart disease, autoimmune conditions and even chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic inflammation is more the culprit when talking about chronic conditions such as joint pain, muscle aches, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic inflammation will affect the entire body, not just your broken leg or the cut on your arm. It will affect the lining of blood vessels and cause the nervous system to be on high alert for any problems. The blood vessels are affected by building up plaque on the inside lining, restricting blood flow. The nervous system remains in a heighten state of awareness due to all of the inflammatory signals throughout the body. In this condition the nervous system will ‘over react’ to a seemingly harmless stimuli. It is not that the person is exaggerating the pain; it is in fact that the person’s nervous system is telling them that IT HURTS…A LOT! Chronic inflammation can affect a person physically (pain in arthritis, neurological conditions, and auto-immune conditions), emotionally (dealing with the pain) and even physiologically (cancer, pulmonary diseases, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes and auto-immune diseases). The key to remember is that you may feel fine even if you have chronic inflammation so you need to have your levels evaluated regularly.
Blood Tests for Inflammation
There are certain blood tests that can determine your level of risk. They are High sensitivity C – reactive protein test (hs-CRP), Homocysteine (an amino acid) and a SED rate (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) which is a measure of the rate at which it takes red blood cells to settle in a test tube. When inflammation has been present for an extended period it takes longer for the red blood cells to settle because they are clumped together due to damage to the proteins. None of these tests alone is diagnostic, but a high reading in any will raise your risk for cardiovascular issues substantially. A high reading in all of them means that risk for any of the above disease states in the picture is high so action must be taken immediately. Homocysteine, SED rate and C-reactive protein test should be done annually; they are all inexpensive and can be added to your blood work analysis without taking more blood. Homocysteine, C-reactive protein and SED rate can provide a simple and quick picture of systemic inflammation in addition to cardiovascular health and can be used as a basis to order more specific tests if the levels are elevated.
By decreasing systemic inflammation a person’s ability to live a healthy and vibrant life increases exponentially.
In good health,
Dr. Kim Bruno