18:45 PM

A Systemic Response

EatingWell Magazine reports on chronic inflammation, featuring experts including HSS rheumatologist Vivian P. Bykerk, BSc, MD, FRCPC, who discuss why inflammation happens in the body and how it can cause a number of ailments.

Dr. Bykerk explained that with acute inflammation, the body sends platelets to get rid of an invader – like an infection, sprain or cut. She said that white blood cells swoop in and “act as the cleanup crew, sweeping up debris, such as bacteria, toxins and broken proteins from damaged tissues.”

Chronic inflammation can be caused by an infection and may linger in the body for an extended period and continues to attack. “Things like toxin exposure, genetics and gene mutations also play a role in how or if chronic inflammation occurs,” noted Dr. Bykerk.

When it comes to chronic inflammation, the immune system can misfire and white blood cells (aka leukocytes) start to release large amounts of chemical messengers collectively called pro-inflammatory cytokines. These chemicals aggressively usher out “invaders” that aren’t invaders at all. Dr. Bykerk noted, “With this misdirected attempt at repair and healing, our healthy tissue starts to break down.” This causes a loop where inflammation causes damage to tissue in the body, and that damage spurs further inflammation – otherwise known as a chronic inflammatory response.

“There are no classic signs of early chronic inflammation,” said Dr. Bykerk. Symptoms can range from body aches to fatigue, changes in mood, brain fog, constipation, heartburn and weight gain.

This article appeared in a special print edition in May 2021.