Inflammation is an important element of our immune system's response when we sustain an injury or are infected by microbes. In fact, inflammation is the way by which our body sends signals to the immune system that a damaged tissue needs to be repaired and healed. At the same time, it signals the body to defend itself against alien invaders like bacteria and viruses. When an individual falls sick or sustains an injury, his/ her white blood cells (leukocytes) release chemicals into the blood stream and the tissues affected to shield their alien invaders like viruses and bacteria. When these inflammatory chemicals are released, they boost blood circulation to the affected areas, which results in redness and warmth. Some of these chemicals may seep into the tissues and this may cause swelling of the area. In addition, this process may also kindle the nerve endings and this may cause pain.
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On the other hand, when the inflammatory process continues for a prolonged period or if this process takes place in the body areas where it is unwarranted, it may become a serious problem. In fact, chronic inflammation has been associated with specific ailments like stroke or heart disease. Moreover, chronic inflammation may also result in autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, taking a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be helpful in controlling inflammation and related problems.
Broadly speaking, inflammations are of two varieties - acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation takes place when you have sore throat, a slash on the knee or suffer from a sprained ankle. Such inflammations are basically temporary responses having their effects locally. In other words, it only works at the exact where the problem occurs. Sings that are an indication of severe inflammation, include heat, swelling, redness and, at times, it also causes pain and the area to become non-functional.
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It is worth mentioning here that acute inflammation is generally caused by harmful substances, trauma or microbial invasion such as bacteria and viruses. Our body starts the healing process immediately by releasing cytokines, which are a type of proteins that persuade inflammation. The process of acute or severe inflammation is quick, sometimes harsh, and takes place for a brief period. The signs as well as symptoms may remain for some days, but in more severe cases they may persist for a longer period.
Many diseases and conditions aggravate acute inflammation. Some of these include an infected and ingrown nail, tonsillitis, acute appendicitis, severe bronchitis, a cut or scratch on the skin, sinusitis, a physical injury or trauma and/ or infective meningitis.
When we talk about chronic inflammation, we mean an enduring inflammation that may continue for a number of months or even years. Generally, autoimmune disorder - a disease wherein the body's immune system assaults its own healthy tissues as it considers them to be foreign or diseased substances, is responsible for chronic inflammation. In addition, poor exposure to irritants may also cause chronic inflammation. This may include low exposure to industrial chemicals over a prolonged period or even the failure of the body to cure the substance or cause responsible for the acute inflammation - for instance various infections or ailments.
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Often unrelenting, low-grade inflammation is also leads to chronic inflammation as this produces a fixed, low-level inflammation all over the body, which can be ascertained by a little increase in the immune system markers that are present in the tissues or blood. When this kind of systemic inflammation occurs, it may often lead to some kind of disease.
A supposed internal threat, even when a person is not suffering from a disease that needs to be cured or any injury to be healed, may also trigger low-level inflammation and occasionally this sends signals to the immune system to react by releasing cytokines. Consequently, the white blood cells (leukocytes) gather at the place from where the signal has been sent but they have no work to do or nowhere to go. In such an eventuality, they begin to attack the body's internal organs and also the healthy cells and tissues of our body resulting in diseases.
Researchers are yet to completely comprehend the repercussion of chronic inflammation on the body. They are also yet to ascertain the mechanisms concerned in this process. However, we are aware that chronic inflammation is responsible for many ailments. For instance, chronic inflammation has been associated with stroke and heart disease. Further research is needed to know these aspects completely. According to one theory, presence of the inflammatory cells in the blood vessels for a prolonged period may contribute to plaque build-up inside the blood vessels. Our body considers these plaques as alien substance that does not belong to it and, hence, it tries to separate the plaque from the blood circulating inside the arteries. In case the plaque is unsteady and come apart, it forms a clot thereby blocking blood circulation to the brain or heart. This, in turn, may set off a stroke or heart attack.
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Aside from heart attack and stroke, chronic inflammation is also linked with cancer. When chronic inflammation occurs for a prolonged period, it may damage the DNA and result in development of some cancer forms.
It is worth mentioning here that often low-grade chronic inflammation does not have any symptom. Nevertheless, physicians can ask the patient to undergo C-reactive protein (CRP) test, which is an indicator for inflammation in the blood. Elevated levels of CRP have been associated with an augmented risk of developing heart disease. In addition, the CRP results can also be an indication of an infection or any chronic inflammatory disease - for instance lupus or rheumatic arthritis.
Aside from search for signs in the blood, an individual's exposure to his/her diet, lifestyle habits and environment can also lead to chronic inflammation. Therefore, in order to avoid inflammation, it is vital for every individual to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The symptoms of inflammation are varied and they are subject to whether one is enduring acute or chronic inflammation.
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Generally, there are five specific symptoms of acute inflammation. These symptoms are known as cardinal signs and usually they are localized. The five specific symptoms of acute inflammation - redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of function - are described briefly below:
Redness: In case of an acute inflammation, the affected area becomes red as the blood vessels in that precise area contain more blood than in the normal situation.
Heat: As more blood flows to the area where there is an acute inflammation, when touched, the area feels warm.
Swelling: As a lot of fluid accumulates in the area where there is acute inflammation, it results in swelling.
Pain: It is very likely that the inflamed are will be painful, especially when one touches the place. This happens because the chemicals that are released during this process induce the nerves, making them much more sensitive.
Loss of function: The inflamed area may experience loss of function for some time. Some examples of this include inability to move a joint where there is acute inflammation or finding it difficult to breathe when one is suffering from an infection in the respiratory system.
The symptoms associated with chronic inflammation are different from the ones that one experience when enduring acute inflammation. The symptoms associated with chronic inflammation may include chest pain, fatigue, fever, muscle pain, abdominal pain, rash, joint pain and even mouth sores.
Chronic inflammation is considered to be very hazardous as the overactive inflammatory response of the body will ultimately begin damaging the healthy cells, tissues and organs of the body. This, in turn, will sooner or later result in disability and fatal complications subject to the body part that is affected.
Findings of various studies have hinted that chronic inflammation has the potential to cause a variety of health condition that range from cancers to inflammatory arthritis.
It is estimated that about 15 percent of all human cancers are linked with chronic inflammation.
There are various treatments of inflammatory diseases and they may comprise rest, medications, exercise and also surgery to rectify damaged joints. However, the treatment plan of an individual is subject to many things, which include their age, their overall health, the type of disease they are enduring, the medications they are already taking and the severity of their symptoms.
The objectives of the treatments of inflammatory disease include control, correct or inhibit the progress of the disease; alleviate the pain by recommending painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications; keep away from or change the individual’s activities that may worsen the pain and ensure the movement of joints and muscle strength by means of physical therapy. In addition, the objective also includes lessening the trauma on joints by using splints, braces or even canes - as they may be needed.
There are several drugs that can be used to alleviate swelling, pain and inflammation. These drugs may also help to put off as well as inhibit inflammatory diseases. Usually doctors prescribe a number of these medicines together for easing the symptoms of inflammatory disease as well as cure the condition. Some of these drugs include anti-malarial drugs, corticosteroids like prednisone, and nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibrufen, aspirin or naproxen. In such cases, doctors also prescribe other drugs that are known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs, which include cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, methotrexate, leflunomide and suldasalazine.
Biological drugs like adalimumab, abatacept, etanercept, certolizumab, golimumab, tocilizumab, infiliximab and riturximab are also prescribed to treat inflammatory diseases and ease their symptoms associated with them such as pain, swelling and inflammation. In fact, a number of these drugs are also used for treating other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancers and also to prevent the body from rejecting organs following a transplant.
However, when the patients use "chemotherapy" type of medicines, for instance cyclophosphamide or methotrexate to treat inflammatory diseases, the tendency is to prescribe lower doses and, hence, they are likely to have fewer side effects compared to when these drugs are prescribed for treating cancer.
Subject to your doctor’s recommendations, you may also use home remedies for alleviating long-term inflammation. These home remedies may include maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, quitting smoking, restrict your alcohol consumption depending on the severity of the symptoms, deal with stress and undertake physical activities on a regular basis.
In addition, you may try using natural supplements like white willow bark, omega-3 fatty acids, green tea, curcumin and/ or capsicum. It has been established that vitamin B6 and vitamins C, D and E, magnesium too help to alleviate inflammation to some extent. However, it is essential that you consult your physician before starting any of these home remedies or start using the supplements mentioned above.
In case the inflammation has damaged an individual's joints severely, he/she may need to undergo surgery. The general procedures followed in surgery for correcting damaged joints include arthroscopy, osteotomy, synovectomy, arthrodesis and joint replacement. These procedures are described briefly below.
Arthroscopy: This procedure involves making a number of small cuts in the region of the affected joints. Subsequently, the surgeon will put in thin instruments to correct the tears, mend damaged tissue or pull out small pieces of bones or cartilages.
Osteotomy: In this procedure, the surgeon removes some parts of the bone close to the joint that has been affected or damaged.
Synovetomy: This surgical procedure for curing damaged joints involve removing all or some parts of the joint lining (known as synovium) provided it has overgrown or it is inflamed.
Arthrodesis: In this surgical procedure the surgeon uses pins or plates to fuse the bones together permanently.
Joint replacement: This surgical process involves replacing a damaged or harmed joint with an artificial joint made of ceramic, plastic or metal.
Foods play a vital role in easing or aggravating inflammatory diseases. It is essential to have an anti-inflammatory diet, which should preferably include olive oil, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables such as collards and spinach, fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines, nuts like walnuts and almonds and fruits such as oranges and berries.
On the other hand, it is essential that whenever possible you stay away from foods that trigger inflammation. These foods include sugary drinks like soda; fried foods such as French fries; refined carbohydrates like white bread; margarine, lard and shortenings; and red and processed meat, including hot dogs and beef.