Inflammation: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
The word inflammation gets thrown around a lot in medical and casual spaces because it is one of the most common responses of the body. In fact, most people experience some form of inflammation in their body every single day. Granted, some of these inflammatory activities go undetected, meaning that they don’t show any notable symptoms but inflammation of various types and severities occur all the time in the human body.
Considering that inflammation will certainly affect you at some point in your life, it is important to know as much about it as you can!
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What is Inflammation?
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. 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.
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.
Treatments for Inflammation
Fortunately, there are some treatments for inflammation, such as anti-inflammatory pain reliever drugs, corticosteroids and even surgery.
Technically known as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), medications like Ibuprofen and Aspirin are able to block certain enzymes and reduce the presence of prostaglandins, which cause pain at the site of inflammation. These can reduce your body’s ability to clot blood but they can help to cut down on unnecessary inflammatory responses.
This class of medications is able to reduce the activity of the immune system to reduce the inflammatory response, which can lower swelling, particularly when topically applied.
For cases of chronic inflammation, particularly those resulting in arthritis, there are certain surgeries that can repair joints, which will reduce the constant inflammatory response in those areas.
Home Remedies for Inflammation
Many people don’t want to use medications or resort to surgery, and there are a number of simple home remedies that can be extremely effective, including ice, physical rest, magnesium, dandelion leaves, turmeric and ginger, among many others.
Applying ice to the site of acute inflammation is excellent for reducing pain and slowing the immune response, which can reduce swelling. When tissues swell, it can press on nerves and cause pain, and ice can prevent this swelling from occurring.
Physically resting the area in question will allow the immune response to be carried out quickly and effectively, without triggering additional inflammation by moving the wound or affected area. This is particularly true if you are experiencing acute inflammation.
A deficiency in magnesium causes a rise in pro-inflammatory markers in the blood, so ensuring you get enough of this mineral is critical to preventing chronic inflammation. Good food sources of magnesium include beans, nuts, spinach and brown rice.
Perhaps the best home remedy for this condition, ginger is packed with compounds that will inhibit key genes in the inflammatory response including genes, hormones and cytokines. Ginger can be consumed in many different forms and is widely known as one of the best remedies for inflammatory activity in the stomach.
These plants may be considered a weed in some parts of the world but dandelion leaves are packed with some of the same compounds as are found in pharmaceutical drugs for inflammation. Brewing dandelion tea or cooking up the dandelion leaves with some garlic are both delicious and easy ways to reduce inflammatory activity in the body.