Chronic Inflammation Blood Tests
By Nick Gold
Table of contents
1. What is inflammation?
2. How does inflammation happen?
3. Acute and chronic inflammation
4. Acute inflammation signs
5. Chronic inflammation
6. Chronic inflammation and heart disease
7. How to find out if one has chronic inflammation
8. Causes of chronic inflammation
9. Measuring inflammation blood markers using a test panel
10. How does it work
11. What blood markers does an inflammation panel measure?
12. C-reactive protein
13. Creatine kinase or creatine phosphokinase
14.1 Low ferritin causes
14.2 High ferritin causes
15.1 Health problems caused by high homocysteine levels
16. Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase
16.1 What high LDH levels mean?
17. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate
17.1 Symptoms of abnormal ESR levels
18. Adjusting your diet to prevent chronic inflammation
19. Treating chronic inflammation
20. How to prevent chronic inflammation naturally?
21. What to do next?
What is inflammation?
Inflammationrepresents the body’s natural response to cure wounds and different forms of injury.
This is a normal and healthy process which helps to heal damaged tissues or eliminating foreign invaders (such as microbes and viruses).
Inflammation is a good thing. Without it, wounds can expand and become deadly in a short period.
However, when inflammation remains in the body for too long or takes place in body areas which don’t need it, inflammation can become a problem.
How does inflammation happen?
When the body detects foreign invaders, it quickly releases a stream of proteins and white blood cells to neutralize them.
These white blood cells (also known as phagocytes) surround the invaders (microbes, bacteria, and viruses) and prevent them from multiplying or causing damage to the body.
This happens when one has a fever. The body temperature rises significantly because the body detects foreign invaders and attempts to neutralize them.
Fever is a good thing, and it is one of the best inflammatory responses of the body because it protects us against a wide range of viruses that can cause serious health problems.
Acute and chronic inflammation
Acute inflammation happens when someone has a sore throat or a sprained ankle. This type of inflammation is characterized by localized effects and temporary responses.
The body knows exactly where the damage occurred, and it sends white blood cells to heal the injured tissues.
Acute inflammation signs
The symptoms of acute inflammation are very popular and easy to recognize:
· Loss of function
· Mild pain
When acute inflammation happens, the blood vessels expand to let more blood come to the damaged area for healing purposes.
The damaged tissue releases substances called cytokines which act as signals, instructing the body to send more nutrients and hormones to this area. This will speed up the healing process and completely neutralize foreign invaders.
Chronic inflammation has whole-body effects, and it usually happens over long periods. This type of inflammation is persistent, and it is characterized by an increase of inflammatory markers in the body.
Chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases, and it is a slow, steady process which develops over many years.
As mentioned early, when the body detects foreign invaders, it releases a swarm of white blood cells to neutralize them.
With low-level inflammation usually encountered in chronic inflammation, the body believes that there is a foreign invader or an illness to cure, when in fact there isn’t any.
The white blood cells are sent to the perceived damaged tissue, but they have no foreign cells to neutralize, and they eventually start to attack nearby cells, tissues or organs.
Although this process is not yet completely understood, researchers are trying to understand why phagocytes attack healthy internal cells and how this process leads to the development of serious diseases such as heart disease or cancer.
Chronic inflammation and heart disease
Statistics show that heart disease and stroke are closely linked to patients of all ages. Some researchers believe that when the inflammatory cells (white cells) stay in the blood vessels for a long period, they help the development of plaque.
Plaque is a substance formed inside blood vessels. The body might see it as a foreign invader and instructs white blood cells to neutralize it.
This leads to a large accumulation of phagocytes inside blood cells around the plaque. When plaque buildup gets too thick, it might rupture inside a blood vessel and cause clots which block blood from passing to vital organs such as the brain.
This can lead to serious cardiovascular diseases, including a stroke.
Chronic inflammation can also lead to cancer. This might happen because low-level inflammation can cause irreversible DNA damage which facilitates the development of different types of cancers.
How to find out if one has chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation usually doesn’t have symptoms. If they exist, these can be:
· Mouth sores
· Abdominal and chest pain
Some symptoms of chronic inflammation can last for several months or even years.
Doctors can also look for certain inflammation markers in the blood to determine if one experiences low-level inflammation.
For example, high levels of C-reactive protein can indicate chronic inflammation in people of all ages. It can be measured via a simple blood test.
There are other markers which can indicate inflammation, and they will be explained in detail later on in this article.
Causes of chronic inflammation
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and a nutritious diet can lower one’s chances of developing chronic inflammation. Getting regular health checks is also important to prevent dangerous diseases.
Apart from an unhealthy diet, there are other things which might cause chronic inflammation:
· Long exposure to irritants and pollutants – people who work with chemicals are particularly exposed, and they have a higher risk of developing chronic inflammation
· Untreated injuries – wounds or injuries which are not treated or improperly treated can become more severe and cause chronic inflammation
· Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
There are also certain factors which contribute to the development of chronic inflammation such as:
· Drinking too much alcohol
· Dealing with high amounts of stress daily
· Being overweight or obese
Measuring inflammation blood markers using a test panel
An inflammation panel can help to measure certain blood markers, including C-reactive protein, to determine the amount of inflammation in the body.
Such tests are performed on a simple blood sample offered by the patient. They are highly accurate and provide accurate insights into one’s overall health.
How does it work?
Testing inflammation markers can be easily done using online test panels. Ordering an online panel means that you don't have to ask your doctor for one, such tests are delivered directly to the consumer and they are processed in the same labs as the ones ordered by doctors.
Here is the step-by-step process:
1. You order your inflammation panel online and receive an appointment at a nearby lab to draw blood for your test.
2. Once you have offered your blood sample, it will be tested at the lab and the results will be delivered to you in a few business days
3. You can measure the test results against reference values and determine if your markers are in normal ranges or not
4. You can also receive appropriate recommendations from your healthcare provider based on these results
5. You make healthy lifestyle adjustments to lower inflammation levels (if necessary) and prevent serious diseases such as lupus, high blood pressure, heart diseases and so on.
What blood markers does an inflammation panel measure?
An inflammation panel is highly recommended for obtaining valuable health insights because it can measure a wide variety of markers to obtain a highly accurate result.
The substances measured by an inflammation panel include C-reactive protein, creatine kinase, ferritin, homocysteine, lactic acid dehydrogenase and erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
This substance is produced by the liver is one of the most important inflammation markers in the body. It is usually an indicator of heart problems or arterial damage.
The American Heart Association created risk groups depending onC-reactive proteinand they can be used to determine the inflammatory risk of a particular patient.
For example, CRP (C-reactive protein) levels below 1.0mg/L indicate low risk. Levels between 1.0mg/L and 3.0mg/L indicate average risk while CRP levels above 3.0 indicate high risk.
There are certain health conditions which can increase the levels of CRP in the body such as inflammatory bowel disease, sleep apnea, colon cancer and more.
It is important to determine the exact levels of CRP in the body to prioritize treatment for those who have high levels.
As mentioned earlier, high levels of CRP are closely linked with heart diseases. Those who have more than 2.0mg/L of CRP in the bloodstream might require more intense treatment of heart problems.
Patients who have high levels of CRP might also require quicker doctor follow-ups for treating heart ailments as well as receiving higher priority for heart surgeries.
CRP levels higher than 10mg/L indicate more serious health problems and require further testing. Such high inflammation in the body can be caused by bone infections, lupus, connective tissue disease, cancer or pneumonia.
It is important to mention that CRP levels might be high in women who take birth control pills. However, other blood markers for infection would have normal values in this case.
Having high CRP levels in the bloodstream might indicate a significant risk for cardiovascular or autoimmune disease, but this is just one biomarker and doesn’t show the full picture.
Additional testing is required to determine if heart disease is a concern for the patient in question.
Testing the CRP levels through an inflammation panel is the first step towards a better health insight, and it will help patients make more informed decisions.
If the CRP levels are shown to be elevated, doctors might prescribe switching to a Mediterranean diet which has been shown to decrease CRP levels over time.
Creatine kinase or creatine phosphokinase
Creatine kinase (CK) is found in numerous tissues and organs in the body including muscle, brain, and heart.
It is an enzyme which can indicate inflammation and deterioration of tissues if it is present in high quantities in the bloodstream.
CK has a great activity in muscle tissue, and it is usually found in plasma, serum or urine.
During muscle deterioration, CK gets out from muscle cells and enters the bloodstream. This makes the blood CK levels to be elevated and indicate muscle damage.
Normal CK levels vary with age, gender, and other factors. Most people should have a CK level between 22 and 198 u/L.
Higher amounts might indicate chronic inflammation and require further investigation to determine its source. It can also indicate acute muscle injury.
It is important to mention here that muscle deterioration is normal for people who work out regularly, especially those who do heavy resistance training.
During intense workouts when someone lifts heavy weights, the muscle tissues get damaged at a microscopic level. This is called muscle catabolism, and it is a completely normal process.
This is the moment when CK rises to the surface from muscle cells and enters the bloodstream.
Therefore, a higher CK level is normal for people who are regular lifters, but if the CK amount is still higher than 198 u/L, then this might indicate a bigger problem.
Before testing the CK levels, it is paramount for the patient to significantly reduce workout routines to prevent excessive amounts of CK from entering the bloodstream and impairing the results.
CK tests are used to evaluate primarily neuromuscular diseases. This means that the test will reveal if the symptoms a person is experiencing are caused by muscle weakness or a nerve problem.
Testing the CK levels can also provide important information such as differentiating between certain types of muscle disorders.
CK levels higher than 500 u/L can indicate certain nerve disorders which need proper treatment. Some of these ailments include Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or spinal muscular atrophy.
When the levels of CK are between 3,000 u/L and 5,000 u/L, this can indicate inflammatory myopathies. CK levels higher than 50,000 u/L can indicate problems such as acute muscle breakdown.
Ferritin is another biomarker measured by the inflammation panel. It is a protein which stores iron and releases it later on when it is necessary.
This substance can be found primarily in body cells, and most of them are situated in the liver. The liver cells which contain ferritin are known as hepatocytes.
Ferritin is involved in the production of red blood cells. When ferritin is required in the body, it will combine with transferrin to be transported to the place where red blood cells need to be produced.
Ferritin is different from iron. Ferritin is a protein which stores iron and plays an important role in a person’s overall iron levels in the body.
Iron is required to carry oxygen throughout the body. When someone has an iron deficiency, testing the ferritin levels (stored iron) shows the complete iron picture. The same test can be done when someone has too much iron in the body as well.
A healthy person is required to have enough circulating iron as well as stored iron levels (ferritin).
When ferritin levels are too low, this is usually indicated by certain symptoms such as:
· Leg pains
· Ringing in the ears
When ferritin levels are too high (meaning that there is too much iron stored in the body), this can lead to the following symptoms:
· Joint pain
· Stomach pain
· Heart palpitations
Ferritin levels might be increased by damage to vital organs such as the liver or spleen.
The ferritin test will produce certain results which will be compared with standard reference values.
· the normal ferritin levels for men are between 20 and 500 ng/mL
· the normal ferritin levels for women are between 20 and 200 ng/mL
If the patient has abnormal ferritin levels, he or she might receive appropriate health recommendations to bring ferritin levels back to normal.
Low ferritin causes
One of the most common causes of low ferritin consists of iron deficiency. This means that a person doesn’t get enough iron from his or her diet.
It is important to note here than iron can also be taken from supplements, so one shouldn’t necessarily rely just on getting it from foods.
Anemia might also be an important cause of low ferritin levels. Anemic people don’t have enough red blood cells for iron to bind with, and this condition usually have excessive fatigue and dizziness as symptoms.
Other causes of low ferritin levels include intestinal absorption, internal bleeding or menstrual bleeding.
It is important to know the exact levels of ferritin and iron in the body to make a more accurate diagnosis. For example, those who have chronic diseases can have low iron levels but normal ferritin levels, while people with anemia have both low iron and ferritin levels.
High ferritin causes
Having too much iron stored in the body isn’t a good thing either. An excessive amount of iron in the body can significantly increase ferritin levels.
This can be caused by various health conditions or diseases such as:
· diabetes type 2
· rheumatoid arthritis
· liver disease
High ferritin levelscan also be caused by different types of cancers.
People who have certain liver diseases might experience increased ferritin levels because ferritin is concentrated in liver cells. When liver tissue gets damaged, ferritin starts to leak out, and it will be detectable in the bloodstream.
Homocysteine is an amino acid commonly found in the blood. Its levels rise in the bloodstream when one eats meat.
Abnormal levels of homocysteine might indicate an early onset of heart disease. High homocysteine levels can also make one more predisposed to endothelial injury.
Endothelial injury is damage done to the inner lining of blood vessels. This usually can be found in people who have heart diseases.
Endothelial injury can promote the development of plaque inside blood vessels which can cause stroke in the long run.
High levels of homocysteine are called hyperhomocysteinemia, and it is a risk factor for heart problems such as coronary heart disease.
hyperhomocysteinemia is also closely correlated with other cardiovascular problems such as blood clots and heart attacks.
Normal homocysteine levels in the blood are usually below 15 mmol/L. Higher levels demand a further investigation to determine if there is a significant risk for heart disease.
High levels of homocysteine are usually associated with a deficiency of vitamin B12. This condition doesn’t show symptoms in adults, but it can show symptoms in kids, although these are very discreet.
For example, some of the symptoms of high levels of homocysteine include:
· mouth sores
· mood changes
· tingling sensations in limbs
· pale skin
The main causes of elevated homocysteine levels can be linked to genetics or kidney disease. Taking certain medications can also increase the amount of these amino acids in the bloodstream.
Low thyroid hormones and psoriasis can also cause high homocysteine levels.
It is important to test this biomarker to determine the level of inflammation in the body more accurately.
For example, if one has high CRP levels (C-reactive protein) as well as high homocysteine levels, this can be a strong indication of a potential cardiovascular disease at some point in the future.
Health problems caused by high homocysteine levels
If homocysteine levels are high for a long period and they are left untreated, this can lead to certain health complications such as:
· thrombosis – clots develop inside blood vessels and affect circulation
· heart attack
· coronary artery disease
· Alzheimer’s disease
Bringing homocysteine levels to normal values can be done in several ways, and one of the most popular methods consists ofgetting daily vitamin supplements.
As mentioned earlier, elevated levels of homocysteine can be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, so taking a vitamin B12 supplement and eating more foods containing vitamin B12 can lower homocysteine.
Orange juice, beans, and green vegetables are full of vitamin B12, and they can be enjoyed daily by people of all ages.
Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase
Lactic acid dehydrogenase (LDH) is an enzyme which plays a vital role in the body’s energy production.
This enzyme helps to turn blood glucose (sugar) into energy which will be absorbed by cells to function properly.
LDH is also found in many cells, tissues, and organs such as heart, kidneys, brain, skeletal muscle, lungs, etc.
Testing the LDH levels is important because this biomarker is a strong indicator of tissue damage. High levels of LDH can be seen in people who have anemia, sepsis, lung inflammation, liver disease, chronic muscle injury and more.
When the body detects illness or an internal injury, the levels of LDH increase drastically. Measuring these levels helps doctors determine if the inflammation is acute or chronic as well as coming up with a more accurate diagnosis.
There are five different types of LDH enzymes spread out across the entire body in different concentrations. For example:
· LDH 1 and LDH 2 can be found in red blood cells and the heart
· LDH 3 can be found in the pancreas and lungs
· LDH 4 and LDH 5 can be found in skeletal muscle and the liver
Elevated levels of LDH can be caused by various factors such as:
· Stroke or heart attack
· Problems with blood flow
· Muscle injury
· Chronic tissue damage
Measuring the levels of LDH in the body is necessary to diagnose certain types of inflammations and diseases.
It is important to follow certain requirements before performing the test, to ensure that the results are as accurate as possible.
For example, vitamin C can lower LDH levels, so patients should get too much vitamin C a few days before taking the test. Heavy exercise should also be avoided since it can increase LDH levels.
Similarly, alcohol can increase LDH levels, so patients are asked to refrain from drinking alcohol a couple of days before taking the test.
Normal LDH levels for adultsis 100–190 U/L. It is important to note here that kids will have much higher values and it is normal to be so.
For example, small children up to 2 years old can have LDH levels between 180 and 430 U/L.
What high LDH levels mean?
Since LDH is present in so many body cells, tissues and organs, high LDH levels indicate inflammation, but more precise tests are required to determine exactly where it occurs.
For example, LDH 4 and LDH 5 indicate muscle and liver damage, so further investigations are necessary. Doctors might request a full liver panel to determine if the inflammation occurs precisely in the liver or the skeletal muscle.
Low LDH levels are very rare, and they are usually harmful. These might be caused by people who consume too much vitamin C (which lowers LDH levels) or by people who have rare genetic mutations.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate(ESR) is another biomarker tested by an inflammation panel. It represents the rate at which blood cells sediment in one hour.
This test is performed by putting anticoagulated blood in a vertical tube (aka Westergren) and waiting for them to settle at the bottom of the recipient.
The rate at which the blood falls to the bottom is known as ESR, and it is measured in millimeters per hour.
Elevated levels of ESR are usually found in people who have different types of diseases such as autoimmune disease, anemia, kidney disease, cancer, and other health complications.
Similarly, low levels of ESR can also indicate certain diseases such as blood hyperviscosity, low plasma protein, leukemia and more.
Symptoms of abnormal ESR levels
When the ESR levels in the bloodstream are outside normal ranges, the patient might experience certain symptoms such as the following ones:
· Abnormal weight loss
· Joint pain and stiffness
· Neck or shoulder pains
· Diarrhea and fever
Testing the ESR levels can give the patient an important “heads up” when it comes to his or her health.
However, it is important to discontinue taking certain medications or drugs a couple of days before the test, to prevent them from interfering with the baseline ESR levels.
For example, the patient shouldn’t take:
· Androgens and estrogens
· Hypertension medication
· Oral contraceptives
· Antipsychotic drugs
The ESR test is usually done in combination with a CRP test to get more accurate results. Both these tests are included in a standard inflammation panel.
Adjusting your diet to prevent chronic inflammation
As mentioned earlier, a nutritious diet based on healthy foods can significantly lower body inflammation and prevent a wide variety of diseases.
There are certain foods or ingredients which promote inflammation, and they should be avoided. Sugar is one of the best examples in this case.
To manage chronic inflammation or prevent it altogether, one should include the following foods in his or her diet:
· Fruits such as oranges and cherries
· Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
· Olive oil
· Fatty fish such as salmon
These goods help lowering inflammation levels in the body, not to mention that they are delicious and nutritious.
Similarly, there are certain foods which need to be avoided:
· Red meat
· Processed meat such as hot dogs, salami and sausages
· Fried foods including French fries
· White bread
· Refined sugars such as chocolate, ice cream, and candies
Treating chronic inflammation
A good amount of inflammation can protect the body against a wide variety of diseases and viruses. However, when too much inflammation is detected in the body, certain medication might help to manage its symptoms.
For example, certain foods have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These foods include garlic, curcumin, ginger, and cayenne, among others. Garlic, in particular, is known to fight viruses and bacteria as well as drastically reducing body inflammation.
Corticosteroids can also be used to treat chronic inflammation.
These hormones are helpful to suppress the function of the immune system for a short period, so that it doesn’t attack healthy tissues (as in the case of autoimmune diseases)
However, long-term usage of corticosteroids can lead to other health problems such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis, so these hormones should be administered with care.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also be used to manage chronic inflammation. These drugs include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and others.
The good thing is that they reduce inflammation and pain. The bad thing is that abusing these drugs can lead to kidney disease or other health conditions, so they should be administered with care.
How to prevent chronic inflammation naturally?
On top of taking corticosteroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as instructed by a doctor, one can also prevent or reduce acute and chronic inflammation naturally.
The best way to do this is by switching to a healthier diet which is rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Some of these foods were mentioned above (garlic, fruits, etc.), but the list of good foods also include walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans, and tofu.
Other methods of preventing inflammation naturally involve losing weight through exercise.
Each person should make a habit of exercising for at least 10-15 minutes a day several times a week. People who are overweight are more prone to inflammation, and they can develop serious medical conditions at an earlier age.
Inflammation can also be reduced by reducing stress levels.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but people should learn to compensate through extended relaxing periods.
There are numerous ways one can relax and eliminate stress such as going for a walk, doing yoga, reading, meditating, watching a good movie, swimming, biking, listening to good music (particularly symphonic music) and more.
Another excellent way of reducing inflammation naturally consists of drinking lots of water.
The human body is bombarded every day with tons of toxins from different sources including cosmetic products, food chemicals, perfumes and scents, pesticides, insecticides, cigarette smoke, pollution and more.
By drinking lots of water daily, the body manages to make these toxins move and eliminates them through urine and stool. As a result, they don’t accumulate in the body, and they don’t promote the development of life-threatening diseases such as diabetes type 2, coronary heart disease and lupus.
Finally, getting a good night’s sleep or even a quick nap in the middle of the day can do wonders for the body and help it fight viruses and bacteria more efficiently.
People shouldn’t ignore their rest time regularly since lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, poor mental performance and even decreased sex drive.
What to do next?
Remember that measuring inflammation biomarkers is very important to discover certain chronic inflammation patterns in the body.
Untreated chronic inflammation can lead to life-threatening medical conditions. By testing the biomarkers, one knows in advance whether he is predisposed to certain diseases or not and can make appropriate lifestyle changes if necessary.
Order the inflammation panel now and have more peace of mind in the future!