Inflammatory markers explained - ARC West (2024)

Jessica Watson is a GP who has done a PhD on inflammatory marker blood tests. In this blog she answers commonly asked questions about these blood tests.

What are inflammatory markers?

Inflammatory markers are blood tests used by doctors to detect inflammation in the body, caused by many diseases. This can include infections, auto-immune conditions and cancers. The three most commonly used inflammatory markers are called C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and plasma viscosity (PV).

What do inflammatory markers measure?

CRP, PV and ESR each measure inflammation in the blood in slightly different ways.

The body produces proteins as part of the normal response to infection or inflammation. One of these proteins is call C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is released quickly at the start of infections or inflammatory conditions.

Plasma viscosity is another test which measures the thickness (or ‘viscosity’) of blood. This is done by calculating the force needed to send plasma (the liquid part of blood) down a thin tube in a given time. During inflammation this thickness (or viscosity) increases because lots of different protein levels rise in the blood.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate also gives doctors an indication of the amount of protein in the blood, by measuring the fall (sedimentation) of erythrocytes (red blood cells) in a tube of blood. Increased levels of protein cause red blood cells to fall more rapidly, increasing the ESR.

Generally, PV and ESR do not change as rapidly as CRP. CRP is not affected by as many other factors as PV or ESR.

Inflammatory marker tests are all non-specific tests. This means they don’t identify what’s causing the inflammation: it might be as simple as a mild infection, or as serious as cancer.

Why do doctors use inflammatory markers?

Inflammatory markers can be useful in helping to diagnose or monitor inflammatory conditions. These include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases such as SLE
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Temporal arteritis
  • Suspected infections

When a doctor suspects one of these conditions, a raised inflammatory marker can help them to make the diagnosis.

If you are already diagnosed with one of these conditions, your doctor may use inflammatory marker tests to monitor response to treatment or to identify when you have a flare up.

Sometimes doctors use inflammatory markers as a non-specific test to rule out serious disease. If inflammatory marker tests are done without a clear reason it can sometimes be difficult to know what the results mean.

What does a raised inflammatory marker mean?

Medical decisions will not be made solely on the results of an inflammatory marker test. Abnormal results suggest inflammation, but don’t identify the cause: it might be as simple as a viral infection, or as serious as cancer. Having a raised inflammatory marker doesn’t always mean you have a disease, they can also be raised in people who are overweight; ESR is also affected by age, gender, smoking and anaemia. It’s also important to know that a normal inflammatory marker test result does not exclude illness.

A doctor will take into account your symptoms and other test results when reading the results of your blood tests. If you have symptoms that suggest a specific condition, a raised inflammatory marker might be enough to diagnose that condition. This is the case for diseases such as polymyalgia rheumatica and temporal arteritis, which are often diagnosed based on typical symptoms and a raised inflammatory marker blood test.

If the cause of a raised inflammatory marker is not obvious, your doctor may do more tests to try to find the cause. Before doing lots more tests, a doctor may want to repeat the test. Sometimes the results go back to normal on their own and doctors never find a cause for the inflammation.

If you already have an inflammatory disease then rising inflammatory markers may suggest a flare up or a poor response to a treatment; a decreasing inflammatory marker can mean a good response to treatment.

What did our research show?

To find out more about this study, take a look at the project summary.

Inflammatory markers explained - ARC West (2024)


Inflammatory markers explained - ARC West? ›

What do inflammatory markers measure? CRP, PV and ESR each measure inflammation in the blood in slightly different ways. The body produces proteins as part of the normal response to infection or inflammation. One of these proteins is call C-reactive protein (CRP).

What are the 4 markers of inflammation? ›

These immune cells after activation with the pathogen releases inflammatory mediators and subsequently showed the cardinal signs (rubor, calor, tumor, and dolor) of inflammation. Vasodilation and increased permeability result in an exudation/leakage of fluid and subsequent edema.

What does it mean when inflammatory markers are high? ›

Where patients tested positive for raised inflammatory markers, 15 per cent were caused by disease such as an infection, autoimmune condition or cancer. In the remaining 85 per cent of patients with raised inflammatory markers, no relevant disease could be found. These results are known as 'false positives'.

What is the normal range for inflammation markers? ›

C-Reactive Protein Test Result
Less than 0.3 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)Normal
0.3 to 1.0 mg/dLNormal or minor elevation
1.0 to 10.0 mg/dLModerate elevation
More than 10.0 mg/dLMarked elevation
1 more row
Feb 19, 2024

What are the markers of arterial inflammation? ›

Fibrinogen and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) are the inflammatory markers most extensively studied for their relation to cardiovascular risk.

What are the 5 indicators of inflammation? ›

Based on visual observation, the ancients characterised inflammation by five cardinal signs, namely redness (rubor), swelling (tumour), heat (calor; only applicable to the body' extremities), pain (dolor) and loss of function (functio laesa).

What are the 10 worst foods for inflammation? ›

Inflammatory Foods
  • Red meat, such as steak and hamburgers.
  • Processed meat, such as bologna, bacon, sausage and lunchmeat.
  • Commercial baked goods such as snack cakes, pies, cookies and brownies.
  • Bread and pasta made with white flour.
  • Deep fried items such as French fries, fried chicken and donuts.

What cancers show high inflammatory markers? ›

In clinical practice, serum IL-6 levels are usually applied to inflammatory or infectious diseases. Increased IL-6 levels have been reported in patients diagnosed with breast, cervical, esophageal, head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and renal cancers.

How can I get my inflammation markers down? ›

Follow these six tips for reducing inflammation in your body:
  1. Load up on anti-inflammatory foods. ...
  2. Cut back or eliminate inflammatory foods. ...
  3. Control blood sugar. ...
  4. Make time to exercise. ...
  5. Lose weight. ...
  6. Manage stress.
Mar 29, 2024

What are signs of chronic inflammation? ›

Some of the common signs and symptoms that develop during chronic inflammation are listed below.
  • Body pain, arthralgia, myalgia.
  • Chronic fatigue and insomnia.
  • Depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
  • Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux.
  • Weight gain or weight loss.
  • Frequent infections.

How do you treat high inflammatory markers? ›

If inflammatory cells stay too long, it may lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a symptom of other health conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis. Your healthcare provider may recommend medication or at-home management. You can reduce inflammation by eating anti-inflammatory foods and managing stress.

Can high inflammatory markers make you tired? ›

Inflammation and Fatigue

Approximately 90% of individuals with a chronic inflammatory condition like an autoimmune disorder, type 2 diabetes or cancer experience this type of fatigue, but it also occurs in seemingly healthy people.

How do I know my inflammation level? ›

Your CRP test results tell you how much inflammation you have in your body. But your test results can't tell you what's causing the inflammation. To make a diagnosis, your provider will look at your CRP results along with the results of other tests, your symptoms, and medical history.

What are abnormal inflammatory markers? ›

What does a raised inflammatory marker mean? Medical decisions will not be made solely on the results of an inflammatory marker test. Abnormal results suggest inflammation, but don't identify the cause: it might be as simple as a viral infection, or as serious as cancer.

How do you reduce arterial inflammation? ›

Here's what you can do to reduce inflammation:
  1. Quit smoking: Smoking damages your blood vessels and promotes atherosclerosis. ...
  2. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight increases your risk for multiple diseases. ...
  3. Increase activity: Exercising for as little as 20 minutes a day can decrease inflammation.

What is the blood test for inflammation of the arteries? ›

Inflammation plays a major role in the buildup of plaques in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. High-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) tests help show the risk of heart disease before there are symptoms. Higher hs-CRP levels are linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease.

What is the best marker for inflammation? ›

The most frequently used inflammatory markers include acute-phase proteins, essentially CRP, serum amyloid A, fibrinogen and procalcitonin, and cytokines, predominantly TNFα, interleukins 1β, 6, 8, 10 and 12 and their receptors and IFNγ. Some cytokines appear to be disease-specific.

What is the main cause of inflammation in the body? ›

Many different things can cause inflammations. These are the most common: Pathogens (germs) like bacteria, viruses or fungi. External injuries like scrapes or damage through foreign objects (for example a thorn in your finger)

How do you tell if you have inflammation in your body? ›

What are the symptoms of acute inflammation?
  • Discolored or flushed skin.
  • Pain or tenderness that should be mild and only in the area of the injury.
  • Swelling (for example, knee inflammation).
  • Skin that feels hot to the touch.

What is the blood test for chronic inflammation? ›

A c-reactive protein test measures the level of c-reactive protein (CRP) in a sample of your blood. CRP is a protein that your liver makes. Normally, you have low levels of c-reactive protein in your blood. Your liver releases more CRP into your bloodstream if you have inflammation in your body.

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