All you need to know about inflammation

Inflammation is a process for protection within the body. The immune system identifies damaged cells, irritants and infections and it starts the process of healing.

If a part of our body is harmed by something harmful or unpleasant, there is a biological response to try to remove it. The signs and symptoms of inflammation may be painful, but they indicate the body is trying to repair itself.

Quick facts about inflammation

  • Inflammation is the body’s self-protection attempt to remove harmful stimuli and start the process of healing.
  • Inflammation is part of the immune reaction of the body.
  • It would not be possible to treat infections, wounds and any damage to tissue without an inflammatory response.
  • Finally, chronic inflammation can cause various diseases and conditions, including some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is inflammation all about ?

Inflammation is a part of the immune response from the body.

For example, when your knee sustains a blow, it can be beneficial and tissues need care and protection. However, inflammation can sometimes persist longer than necessary, causing more harm than good.

Healing wounds

Medical doctor trying to explain things
Inflammation helps to heal wounds but chronic inflammation can lead to conditions such as asthma or rheumatoid arthritis.

The immediate response to a swelling is to try to reduce it. It is however important to remember that inflammation is an essential part of the process of healing.

The first stage of inflammation is often called irritation, and this becomes inflammation afterwards. The pus discharge is followed by inflammation. Next comes the granulation stage, and new tissue is formed in the wound.

Infections, and wounds would never heal without inflammation.

Inherent immunity

Other immune system defenses are naturally present in the body when a person is born. This is referred to as innate immunity.

It’s different from adaptive immunity that we develop when the body “learns” to fight a specific infectious agent after an infection or vaccination.

Innate immunity is usually non-specific while adaptive immunity is unique to a particular pathogen. Inflammation is a case in point for an innate immune response.

Symptoms

Inflammatory effects vary with whether the reaction is acute or chronic.

The PRISH acronym will sum up the effects of acute inflammation. These include:

  • Pain: The region that is inflamed is likely to be painful, particularly during and after contact. Chemicals are released which stimulate nerve endings and make the area more sensitive.
  • Redness: This is because the underlying capillaries are filled with blood more than normal.
  • Immobility: The area of inflammation can cause some loss of function.
  • Swelling: A buildup of fluid triggers this.
  • Heat: More blood flows to the affected area, and that makes the touch feel warm.

The five acute symptoms of inflammation refer only to skin inflammations. When inflammation happens deep within the body, for example in an internal organ, only some of the symptoms may be evident.

For example, some internal organs may not have nearby sensory nerve endings so there will be no pain, as in some types of inflammation of the lungs.

Chronic inflammatory symptoms appear in a different way. This may include:

  • fatigue
  • mouth sores
  • chest pain
  • abdominal pain
  • fever
  • rash
  • joint pain

Causes

Inflammation is caused in response to a physical injury or infection by a number of physical responses activated by the immune system.

Inflammation doesn’t necessarily mean an infection is present, but an infection can cause inflammation.

Before and during acute inflammation, three main processes occur:

  • As blood is delivered to the affected area, the small branches of arteries widen, resulting in increased blood flow.
  • Capillaries are safer for the penetration of fluids and proteins, which ensures they can travel between the cells and blood.
  • Neutrophils are released into the body. A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell filled with tiny sacs containing enzymes and micro-organisms that digest.

After those steps, a person may find symptoms of inflammation.

Acute inflammation

An acute inflammation is one that begins quickly and gets serious in a short time. Signs and symptoms are usually present only for a few days but in some cases may persist for a few weeks.

Examples of disorders, illnesses and circumstances that can lead to acute inflammation include:

  • acute bronchitis
  • infected ingrown toenail
  • a sore throat from a cold or flu
  • a scratch or cut on the skin
  • high-intensity exercise
  • acute appendicitis
  • dermatitis
  • tonsillitis
  • infective meningitis
  • sinusitis
  • a physical trauma

Chronic or acute inflammation

These are the two forms of inflammation which differ in how quickly symptoms escalate and how long symptoms last.

The table below shows the important distinctions between acute and chronic inflammation:

AcuteChronic
Caused byHarmful bacteria or tissue injuryPathogens that the body cannot break down, including some types of virus, foreign bodies that remain in the system, or overactive immune responses
OnsetRapidSlow
DurationA few daysFrom months to years
OutcomesInflammation improves, turns into an abscess, or becomes chronicTissue death and the thickening and scarring of connective tissue

What is chronic inflammation?

This refers to inflammation in the long term and can last for several months or even years. It can result from:

  • failure to eliminate anything that caused an acute inflammation
  • an autoimmune disorder that attacks normal healthy tissue, mistaking it for a pathogen that causes disease
  • exposure at a low level of a particular irritant, such as an industrial chemicals, over a long period of time.

Examples of diseases and conditions that include chronic inflammation:

  • asthma
  • chronic peptic ulcer
  • tuberculosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • periodontitis
  • ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • sinusitis
  • active hepatitis

While damaged tissue can not heal without inflammation, chronic inflammation can eventually cause many diseases and conditions including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, parodontitis and hay fever.

It is important to control the inflammation well.

Is inflammation painful?

Inflammation can cause rigidity and limited mobility.
Inflammation can cause rigidity and limited mobility.

That often hurts when people have inflammation.

Depending on the severity of the inflammation, people will feel discomfort, stiffness, discomfort, anxiety and even agony. Different types of pain. It may be defined as steady, continuous, throbbing, pulsating, stabbing, or pinching.

Inflammation causes pain mainly because the swelling presses against the delicate nerve endings. That sends out messages of pain to the brain.

During inflammation, other biochemical processes occur too. They affect how the nerves function and this can increase pain.

Common treatments

Anti-inflammatory medicines It is possible to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate the discomfort caused by inflammation.

They function against an enzyme which contributes to inflammation. This prevents pain, or reduces it.

Examples of NSAIDs include naproxen, aspirin and ibuprofen.

Evite long-term use of NSAIDs unless a doctor recommends. These increase the risk of a person having stomach ulcers which can lead to severe, life-threatening bleeding.

NSAIDs can also aggravate symptoms of asthma, cause kidney damage and increase the risk of stroke or heart attacks.

Acetaminophen can reduce pain without causing the inflammation, such as asparacetamol or Tylenol. They may be suitable for those who just want to treat the pain while allowing the inflammation’s healing factor to continue.

Corticosteroids Corticosteroids, such as cortisol, are a class of steroid hormones which prevent a number of inflammatory mechanisms.

Two types of corticosteroids exist: Glucocorticoids: These are recommended for a range of conditions, including:

  • arthritis
  • temporal arteritis
  • dermatitis
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
  • systemic lupus
  • hepatitis
  • asthma
  • allergic reactions
  • sarcoidosis

Inflammation of the skin, hair, lungs, intestines and nose may be treated with creams and ointments.

Mineralocorticoids: In patients with adrenal insufficiency, these are used to treat cerebral salt loss and to replace essential hormones.

When taken by mouth, the side-effects of corticosteroids are more probable. Taking inhalers or injections with them can reduce the risk.

Inhaled medications, such as those used to treat asthma over the long term, increase the risk of developing oral thrush. After each use, mouth rinsing out with water can help avoid oral thrush.

Glucocorticoids can also cause Cushing’s syndrome, while mineralocorticoids can cause high blood pressure, low blood potassium levels, weakening of the connective tissue, and issues with body tissue levels of acids and alkalis.

Herbs for inflammation

Ginger comes with anti-inflammatory benefits

Discuss with your doctor about any possible use of herbal supplements.

Harpagophytum procumbens: Also known as the claw of the devil, wood spider, or grapple plant, this herb originates from South Africa and is associated with sesame plants. Some work has shown that it may possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Hyssop: For the treatment of certain lung conditions, including inflammation, this is mixed with other herbs such as licorice. Hyssop’s essential oils can cause life-threatening convulsions in laboratory animals. Caution is advised.

Ginger: For hundreds of years this has been used to treat dyspepsia, constipation, colic and other gastrointestinal problems, as well as discomfort with rheumatoid arthritis.

Turmeric: Current research is exploring the possible beneficial effects of turmeric in the treatment of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other inflammatory diseases. Curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, is invested in treating various diseases and disorders, including inflammation. There are supplements made with turmeric and curcumin.

Cannabis: It contains a cannabinoid called cannabichromene with anti-inflammatory properties. However in many places cannabis is not legal.

Inflammation diet

Multiple foods have been shown to help reduce the risk of inflammation, among them:

  • olive oil
  • tomatoes
  • nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
  • leafy greens, including spinach and kale
  • fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel
  • fruit, including blueberries and oranges

Avoid eating inflammation-aggravating foods, including:

  • fried foods, including French fries
  • white bread, pastry, and other foods that contain refined carbohydrates
  • soda and sugary drinks
  • red meat
  • margarine and lard

While the secret to managing inflammation is not provided by these dietary solutions alone, they will allow the immune system to respond in a controlled manner.

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