11 Atypical Signs of Chronic Inflammation

Most people associate inflammation with an injury or with an arthritis condition. But inflammation can be a sign of numerous, very serious health conditions. 

Inflammation comes in two types—acute and chronic. Acute inflammation helps us with the healing process and is generally short-lived. Chronic inflammation is more concerning and can lead to serious health complications.

In chronic inflammation, the effects linger, leaving the body in a constant state of panic. Over time, chronic inflammation will start to have a negative impact on tissues and organs. Chronic inflammation can stick around for months or even years. It plays a role in the development of many diseases from autoimmune diseases to cancer.

Classic signs of inflammation include fatigue, fever, and joint and muscle pain. Inflammation is also known for causing symptoms that are considered atypical. This can include things like balance issues, insulin resistance, muscle weakness, eye problems, skin issues, and more. 

Regardless of the symptoms of inflammation you experience, none of these symptoms should be ignored.


Low Back Pain

Conditions like ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-AxSpA) are known for causing chronic inflammation that attacks the spine. Both can cause pain in the hips and neck. They will also cause pain and stiffness in the lower back, especially in the morning.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience persistent low back and hip pain. Early treatment can manage the condition, control pain and stiffness, and reduce the risk for disability.


Skin Symptoms

Skin symptoms, especially rashes, are common in a variety of autoimmune diseases known for causing systemic (all-over) inflammation.

Inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis develop when the immune system triggers inflammation that attacks skin cells. But even conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which don’t usually cause skin symptoms can trigger inflammation that attacks the skin.

About 1 in 100 people with RA will have some kind of skin involvement as part of their disease. Skin involvement in RA indicates a severe form of the disease. This may advance into complications of the disease like rheumatoid nodules, Felty syndrome, livedo reticularis, and rheumatoid vasculitis.

Talk to your healthcare provider about any new skin symptoms you experience. They can determine the source and provide you with treatment options. 


Swollen Lymph Nodes

The medical term for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenitis. There are about 600 lymph nodes in your body, but the only ones you can feel are located in the neck, under the armpits, and in the groin area. Lymph nodes will swell up as a warning sign something is going on with your immune system. 

A sore throat or cold can cause lymph nodes to swell up in the neck. Once your body has fought off the viral infection, you will start to feel better and the swelling will be gone.

Tell your healthcare provider if your lymph nodes are consistently swollen or painful. It is possible something more serious is going on. 


Excess Mucus Production

If you are always needing to clear your throat or blow your nose, this is another sign of inflammation. Mucus is produced by the lower airways in response to inflammation.

A number of inflammatory diseases can trigger mucus production including chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If excess mucus production is a regular and uncomfortable occurrence for you, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a diagnosis and treatment plan.


Low Energy

If you are consistently feeling fatigued despite getting plenty of sleep at night, this might be a clue your body is fighting off inflammation. You will have little energy because your immune system is consistently working to regulate itself. The result is chronic inflammation from an imbalance in the amount of energy you have and what your body is trying to use.

Talk to your healthcare provider if fatigue and low energy are giving you any amount of concern. You should make an appointment with your healthcare provider for fatigue that has lasted two or more weeks despite getting better sleep, reducing stress, eating healthy, and staying hydrated.


Poor Digestion

Common digestion issues associated with inflammation include bloating and gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Research shows that even low levels of inflammation can affect your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

A number of inflammatory diseases can cause digestive symptoms from those directly connected to your digestive health, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), to those that cause all over inflammation, such as systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), interstitial cystitis, and multiple sclerosis.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another symptom of too much inflammation in the body. GERD is a digestive disorder causing acid stomach juices, food, or fluids to back up from the stomach to the esophagus, the hollow, muscular tube that moves foods and fluids from the throat to the stomach.

According to a study reported in 2016 reported by the Journal of the American Association (JAMA), GERD could be part of the body’s natural inflammatory response. Unfortunately, this response leads to damage of the esophagus.

Ongoing digestive issues can affect your quality of life. If you are consistently experiencing digestive troubles, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. It might help to write down all your symptoms and what triggers them. The more information you can share with your healthcare provider, the easier it will be to narrow down a diagnosis.


Balance Problems

Inflammatory diseases can cause the body to overact act and attack nerve cells. When that happens, nerve signals are compromised, and a person might feel dizzy, off-balance, or they have problems with walking.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one such inflammatory disease that affects balance. This is because MS causes inflammation in parts of the brain responsible for processing balance.

Further, any inflammatory condition—like an autoimmune disease—that causes vision, inner ear, and sensory problems can also alter balance. You should contact your healthcare provider any time you notice changes to your balance or gait (the way you walk).


Insulin Resistance

Research shows inflammation affects the way that insulin works. Insulin controls sugar levels in the blood and insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar. Persistent high levels of blood sugar can damage nerves and blood cells, and lead to diabetes.

Symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst, headaches, trouble concentrating, blurred vision, frequent urination, fatigue, and weight loss. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are consistently experiencing one or more of these symptoms, as persistent high blood sugar can cause serious complications. 


Blood Clotting Problems

People who develop inflammation from an injury, trauma, or inflammatory disease can develop hypercoagulation—a condition that causes the blood to clot too much. Hypercoagulation might lead to a stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.

A blood clot of the heart or lung could cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or upper body discomfort. A blood clot in the brain causes headaches, problems understanding speech, trouble speaking, and inability to move. A blood clot in the deep veins will cause pain, redness, warmth, and swelling in one or both lower legs.

Go to an emergency room or call 911 if you experience signs of a blood clot. The cause of a blood clot needs to be found and treated right away. 


Dry Eyes

Dry eyes are common with many inflammatory conditions, including Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the tear glands and the salivary glands. Eye inflammation is also common in other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience very dry eyes, blurry vision, burning or stinging of the eyes, a gritty feeling in one or both eyes, sensitivity to light, discomfort wearing contacts, or inflamed eyelids.

Your healthcare provider can prescribe treatments to ease symptoms and reduce your risk vision loss and other serious eye complications. 


Brain Fog

Brain fog is a symptom of many inflammatory conditions. It affects memory problems, mental clarity, concentration, and focus. 

Research shows inflammation might be responsible for the mental sluggishness associated with chronic inflammatory diseases. If inflammation is left unchecked, it can be just as debilitating as the disease that has caused the inflammation.

Treatment for chronic inflammation can resolve cognitive issues. Inflammation can also be managed by making healthy diet choices. Diet changes can improve energy, overall health, and other symptoms caused by ongoing inflammation. 

A Word From Verywell

Chronic inflammation increases the risk of serious health conditions. If you experience signs of inflammation—whether common or atypical, talk to your healthcare provider about getting bloodwork to determine the source of the inflammation.

Medications, dietary supplements, and lifestyle changes can manage chronic inflammation. You should also do what you can manage to stressors and avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption to reduce your risk. 

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lana Barhum
Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. She shares advice on living well with chronic disease.