Inflammation is an innate response of the immune system triggered by the presence of a foreign body (bacteria), injury, or infection, and it plays a critical role in wound healing.
Definition of inflammation
When the body detects pathogens or tissue injury, the immune system triggers various reactions involving plasma proteins, blood vessels, immune cells, and mediator cells. Inflammation is an essential part of the body's healing process.
During the healing process, it eliminates and clears out necrotic cells from the injured tissue site and initiates tissue repair by beginning the inflammatory response to fight infection. The five cardinal signs of inflammation include loss of function, redness, swelling, heat (due to increased blood flow, the affected area may feel warm to touch), and pain.
Too little inflammation could lead to the progressive destruction of tissues by harmful stimuli like bacteria. In contrast, excessive inflammation in the form of chronic inflammation is linked to various diseases such as osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, and hay fever. Common skin diseases associated with inflammation include eczema, dermatitis, drug rashes, poison ivy, and poison oak.
Types of Inflammation
There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation lasts a few days and occurs immediately after an infection or injury. There are two components of acute inflammation. The first component is cellular, where the immune system dispatches the body's white blood cells to protect and surround the area. The two most common white blood cells - leukocytes and macrophages - migrate from the blood to the site of infection or injury.
Acute inflammation may result in swelling and redness at the site of infection. The vascular phase of acute inflammation involves a series of biochemical reactions that dilate blood vessels and swelling of tissues to accommodate the influx of immune cells. Some factors and infections resulting in acute inflammation include appendicitis and other illnesses ending with "-tis", or a sore throat from the flu or a cold.
Chronic or long-term inflammation can last for months and years and develops for various reasons. The first reason is sensitivity; inflammation occurs when the body senses foreign material or external triggers, which can result in an allergy. Long-term exposure to an irritant like an industrial chemical can also lead to chronic inflammation. Persistent acute inflammation in which an individual does not recover from the acute inflammatory response can also result in chronic inflammation. It occurs in response to persistent foreign bodies, a viral infection, or autoimmune reactions.
Chronic inflammation is linked to the disease process of several long-term chronic conditions, including metabolic syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and asthma. Such chronic inflammatory diseases contribute to more than 50% of deaths worldwide. For instance, in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory cells attack joint tissues resulting in inflammation, pain, and damage to joints.
It is often more difficult to spot the signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation compared to acute inflammation. Some common chronic inflammation symptoms include body pain, fatigue, chest pain, fever, joint stiffness, and mouth sores (HIV infection). Individuals with conditions from chronic inflammation have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their bodies. Common risk factors of chronic inflammation include smoking, stress, sleep issues, older age, obesity, and an unhealthy diet.
Both acute and chronic inflammation release inflammatory chemicals that stimulate nerve endings, leading to greater sensitivity in the affected areas.
Signs and Symptoms of Inflammation
Symptoms of inflammation include joint stiffness, pain, redness, and a swollen joint. Inflammation may also lead to flu-like symptoms, including headaches, loss of appetite, chills, fever, and muscle stiffness.
Inflammation Effect on Internal Organs
Inflammation can also affect an individual's internal organs in the form of autoimmune disorders or autoimmune diseases. For example, autoimmune disorders occur when the individual's body attacks healthy tissues. The symptoms of such inflammatory conditions depend on the organs that are affected by inflammation.
Diagnosis of Inflammatory Diseases
The doctor will diagnose inflammation by asking about an individual's medical history or conducting physical examinations focusing on whether joints are stiff in the morning, signs of inflammation, and patterns of painful joints. Measuring inflammation entails using the results of x-rays and blood tests for biomarkers.
If a doctor wants to measure inflammation, they conduct a blood test called the hs-CRP test. The hs-CRP test measures the C-reactive pattern (CRP), a marker for inflammation. The c-reactive protein is produced naturally in the liver in response to inflammation, and high protein levels may be due to various inflammatory conditions.
Home Remedies for Inflammation Reduction
Diet and exercise have been shown to impact inflammation, and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Avoiding sugars, processed foods (hot dogs, sausages), refined carbohydrates, and fried foods can help reduce inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet can help fight inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory foods include fatty fish, green tea, broccoli, berries, cherries, turmeric, ginger, cloves, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils. Regular exercise, losing weight, and quitting smoking may help fight inflammation. Foods with anti-inflammatory properties also have other health benefits, including improving blood pressure, lowering the risk of stroke and Alzheimer's, and protecting against heart disease.
To treat inflammatory diseases, doctors may prescribe medications or advise an individual to exercise, rest, or undergo surgery to correct joint damage. The treatment plan will depend on several aspects, including the type of inflammatory condition, age, overall health, current medications, and the severity of symptoms.
Drugs or medications that can help ease swelling, pain, and inflammation include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen). Antibiotics may be necessary if the inflammation results from a bacterial infection. Medications including Tylenol, paracetamol, and acetaminophen are recommended for pain relief but do not reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is a biological response that plays a critical role in the healing process in the body. Many home remedies and medications are beneficial when it comes to fighting inflammation. However, it is recommended that individuals consult their healthcare provider to learn more about the signs and symptoms of the inflammation they are experiencing and proceed with the appropriate treatment choice.