8 Signs That Your Body Is Fighting Inflammation, From Headaches and Bloating to Fatigue

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, inflammation might be to blame.

Chances are, you've heard about inflammation—and it probably hasn't been portrayed in the best light. A normal bodily process that occurs when your body is trying to heal itself, inflammation typically occurs when you experience an acute injury (think a sprained ankle and the resulting swelling) or something chronic, like arthritis.

"When an injury or any damage is recognized by your body, your immune system activates and sends inflammatory chemicals to that area to start the healing process—but oftentimes, we keep using the injured body part, which only aggravates the area and leads to greater inflammation," says Akash Bajaj, MD, MPH, a pain management physician and the founder of Remedy Wellness & Anti-Aging in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Ultimately, some inflammation is necessary: It allows your body to recover from certain ailments that may be holding you back. 

If your body is fighting inflammation, you'll probably know it, since it often comes with a slew of symptoms like redness, warmth, swelling, pain, and sometimes even loss of function. Luckily, these signs are typically short-lived, explains Steve Vasilev, MD, an integrative gynecologic oncologist, medical director, and professor affiliated with Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif; they should last for a few hours or days. In some cases, however, the inflammatory response may become chronic, he says.

woman holding wrist

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Whether you're dealing with short- or long-term inflammation (or think you are!), it's important to pay attention to your body; doing so will help you recognize the symptoms of inflammation faster, so you can hit the road to recovery, stat. Here, doctors share some of the most common manifestations of inflammation in the body—and what might be causing it.


If you're experiencing any inflammation in your body, it's likely accompanied by pain, which is your body's first signal that something is wrong. This pain might feel like burning in acute events or aching and throbbing in more chronic cases, explains Medhat Mikhael, MD, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

"The pain usually resolves as soon as the inflammatory process goes away and it is commonly treated in acute events through rest, ice, immobilization, elevation, and possibly the use of natural anti-inflammatories like ginger, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids, and garlic—or the use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories," Dr. Mikhael says. "In cases of chronic inflammation, like autoimmune disorders, long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs, painkillers, and long-term physical therapy can help."


When your body is fighting inflammation, it uses a lot of energy—which is why you might feel particularly fatigued, even if you're clocking enough sleep at night. Inflammation-induced drowsiness could be the result of a number of things, such as an infection, food intolerance, or autoimmune disorder, says Denise Pate, MD, an internal medicine physician and the medical director with Medical Offices of Manhattan. She recommends focusing on getting as much rest as possible and even incorporating some anti-inflammatory foods—such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats—into your diet.

Skin Changes

Inflammation can also cause changes in your skin, such as redness, itching, rashes, and hives. "These symptoms are often a sign that the body is trying to fight inflammation, either due to an infection, an autoimmune disorder, or an allergic reaction," says Dr. Vasilev. "These may be local skin changes or more widespread if they are signaling a generalized problem in your body, such as an allergic reaction to something you ingested."

To reduce this type of skin-related inflammation, identify the underlying causes, which can range from anything including certain medications to topical skin care products, says Dr. Vasilev.

Breathing Issues

If you're suffering from inflammation in your lungs, you might experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, warns Dr. Vasilev. "This can occur in response to infections, allergies, or chronic lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)," he says.

To reduce inflammation in this case, visit your primary care provider, who can suggest a treatment plan that may involve medications or inhalers—and provide advice on avoiding triggers that can worsen inflammation, such as air pollution or cigarette smoke, says Dr. Vasilev.

woman with headache on couch

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Headaches, as well as migraines, are incredibly common, affecting as many as one in seven adults worldwide. Sometimes inflammation—which may be be the result of muscle or blood vessel spasms or have neurologic origins—is to blame, explains Dr. Vasilev. "This is thought to be due to the release of inflammatory chemicals, such as prostaglandins, that can sensitize pain receptors," he says. "It is important to identify the underlying cause of the headaches and follow the recommended treatment plan, which may involve medications, lifestyle changes, and stress reduction techniques."

Mood Changes

Changes in mood can be the result of a lot of factors—and inflammation is one of them. If inflammation is to blame for any personality fluctuations, including depression or anxiety, it may be the effect of inflammatory chemicals on neurotransmitters in the brain, says Dr. Vasilev. Work with your doctor to get to the root of the issue; certain medications, therapy, and stress-relief tactics might all be part of your treatment plan.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

When your body experiences an infection, your lymph nodes will typically swell—but inflammation can trigger this response, too. "The lymph nodes are part of the immune system, so swelling can occur in response to infections and autoimmune disorders," says Dr. Vasilev. "When due to infection, these painful enlargements tend to resolve on their own."

Digestive Issues

If you're experiencing any type of gastric discomfort, including gas, bloating and diarrhea, there may be some inflammation in your digestive tract. "Your immune system along your GI tract is triggered and trying to fight off pathogenic bacteria in your gut," says Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, PhD, RD, the director of the Nutrition Division and Department of Family Population & Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook Medicine. 

"Reducing this type of inflammation is a complex process, best directed by a registered dietitian and physician team, during which medication and/or herbs are used to decrease the population of unhealthy microbes, healing the gut and calming the immune system with specific nutrients and facilitating re-establishment of a healthy microflora," Connolly-Schoonen says.

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  1. "Headache Disorders: How Common Are Headaches?" World Health Organization.

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