Recent Blog Articles

Diseases & Conditions

Can medication tame chronic inflammation?

April 1, 2022

The answer isn’t "yes" for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about it.

photo of a man sitting on a couch gripping his knee due to pain

Many diseases are marked by chronic inflammation — the persistent activation of the immune system. Although we have lots of medications to quiet acute (short-term) inflammation — like an attack of gout — they’re not often effective in preventing chronic inflammation. And some people don’t realize that. "I’ve had patients come in and say, ‘I keep reading that inflammation is a killer. Can you give me something for it?’ There’s a lot of misconception about it," notes Dr. Robert Shmerling, a rheumatologist and medical editor of the Harvard Special Health Report Fighting Inflammation (/ui).

Understanding inflammation

When the immune system is alerted to damage or danger in the body — such as infection or injury — it sends cells that fight invading microbes, clean up debris, and begin the healing process. The response is called acute inflammation, and it’s temporary.

But sometimes the immune response continues over a long period, injuring a specific part of the body. This chronic inflammation can be triggered by any number of inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (which attacks the lining of the joints) or inflammatory bowel disease (which attacks the digestive tract lining).

Chronic inflammation can also result from an unhealthy lifestyle — being sedentary, smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol, or being stressed all the time. Those habits promote inflammation throughout the body, and play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and diabetes.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».

About the Author

photo of Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi was named a journalism fellow … See Full Bio
View all posts by Heidi Godman


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

You might also be interested in…

Fighting Inflammation

Chronic inflammation plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s. This report will examine the role that chronic inflammation plays in these conditions, and will also provide information on the breadth of drugs currently available to alleviate symptoms. Drug choices range from simple aspirin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that’s been available for more than a century, to disease-modifying drugs and so-called biologics that promise more targeted treatments.

Read More

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.