In basic terms, inflammation is caused by the chemical and physiological responses of the body as it tries to heal or protect itself from damage or a potential threat. The purpose of inflammation is to remove cells that have been damaged or infected, along with pathogens, irritants, and allergens, all of which could do harm. After these unwanted substances have been removed from the body, the healing and repair processes can begin.
Many people mistakenly believe that this inflammatory response is caused by an infection or a wound but that isn’t the case. Inflammation, in most cases, is a sign that your body’s immune system and basic repair functions are working. Without the inflammatory process in the body, our cells and tissues would continue to die, in other words, inflammatory actions in the body keep us alive.
The basic process of inflammation proceeds from initial irritation to inflammation, which is when the healing process begins. The following inflammation is a third stage, called suppuration. In the suppuration stage, pus is discharged from the body, and in the final granulation stage, small amounts of tissue are formed in the wound as cells are regrown and replaced. Excessive inflammation following an injury or exposure to an allergen is obviously unwanted by most people, considering that the symptoms of inflammation can manifest in so many ways.
Types of Inflammation
Depending on the cause of the negative stimuli, infectious pathogen, toxin, dead cells etc., the reaction by the body will be different. There are also two primary types of inflammation: chronic and acute inflammation, which are notably different in key ways.
This is the short-term type of inflammation that happens as the result of an injury or rapid-onset infection, such as a cut on your knee, a sprained wrist, respiratory infection, allergic response or appendicitis. Generally, acute inflammation is the body’s response to damage, and is, therefore seen as a “good” thing.
This type of inflammation may last for months or years and is closely tied to a number of serious health problems including cancer, arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, depression and many other diseases. This type of inflammation is typically caused by long-term wear and tear on a certain part of the body. This type of inflammation is often self-perpetuating, which means that it causes damage and triggers yet another inflammatory response. While this inflammation can be a helpful signal to the body that something is wrong, it is still considered the “bad” type of inflammation.
Causes of Inflammation
Inflammation can be caused by many different things, depending on whether it is acute or chronic.
As mentioned earlier, acute inflammation is caused by a very immediate threat to the safety of the body, such as a cut, scrape, bruise or sprain, as well as a rapid-onset infection. In the case of an injury, the inflammatory response is intended to clear out damaged cells and make way for healthy, repaired cells.
Most acute forms of inflammation end with “-itis”, such as bronchitis, tonsillitis, appendicitis or dermatitis. These can be caused by any number of viral or fungal infections, causing a rapid inflammatory response in the body that is generally seen as beneficial.
- Smoking – Smoking is a way to constantly pour in harmful toxins into the body that your immune system will want to expel, through an inflammatory response. Doing this over time will result in chronic, self-perpetuating inflammation and serious tissue damage, often resulting in cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Obesity – Being overweight puts unnecessary strain on your body, both physically and chemically. This can increase the inflammatory levels in your body, leading to a range of health problems, including heart disease.
- Activity – Repeated stress and strain on joints and muscles, without proper repair and rest, will result in chronic inflammation. Arthritis is perhaps the most well known inflammatory condition and is the result of chronic inflammation in those areas of the body.
- Gut Health – Considering that such a significant portion of your immune cells are found in the gut, the health of your gut is critical. If your bacterial balance is off, it can cause nearly constant inflammation of the intestines, which can lead to a number of chronic inflammatory diseases.
Symptoms of Inflammation
The most common symptoms of inflammation include:
- Inability to move certain joints
These are caused by the chemical process that begins once the body detects a threat. If you scrape your knee, that action will cause the release of certain proteins in the body, called cytokines, which act as signals for the immune system to respond. This also summons the necessary nutrients to the affected area, such as proteins and vitamins, to create new cells. This process also causes the blood vessels to open, allowing the immune system responders (white blood cells) and nutrients to reach the threatened area more easily. A notable amount of bodily fluid accompanies this flood of nutrients, which is why inflamed areas of the body will swell up; that is the fluid filling up the spaces between cells and tissues.
Blood clots are formed at the surface of the scraped knee, for example, which will stop the bleeding so that new tissue can be formed. The presence of the hormones that create these blood clots, prostaglandins, will also cause fever and trigger pain receptors, two other common symptoms of inflammation.
The white blood cells sent by the immune system will consume any unwanted substances that have entered the wound, thus protecting against potential infection. As that wound heals, the pus that is accumulated and eventually released is composed of these “used up” white blood cells.