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What Is Inflammation: Understanding This Common Health Condition

Doctors often list inflammation as a symptom of many illnesses—ranging from a simple fever to more serious ones like cancer and heart disease. This condition is triggered by a variety of causes, but it is one of the body's many responses to foreign invaders. What is inflammation? Inflammation is a natural process in which the body's white blood cells release chemicals into the bloodstream and around the affected tissues to protect against potential threats. These threats can include foreign bodies, irritants, and pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and other infectious organisms. These inflammation chemicals boost the blood flow in the affected area, increasing its redness and temperature. In some cases, they may leak into the tissue, causing swelling and pain. By flooding the potential threat with white blood cells, the body can effectively battle injuries, infections, and other threats. Inflammation is a normal part of the body's immune response. However, some diseases—known as autoimmune diseases—can trigger this, causing the immune system to attack the body's tissues. As a result, healthy tissues can be damaged and cause further health complications. 2 Types of Inflammation There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. The difference between the two types is determined by the length of time the inflammation lasts. 1. Acute inflammation Acute inflammation occurs over a short period of time. The inflammation process is rapid and severe, resolving anywhere from a few days to two (2) weeks. This short-term inflammation is often caused by injury or illness such as cuts and scratches on the skin, tonsillitis, sinusitis, and acute appendicitis. Once healed, the body is restored to its previous state before the injury or illness. Signs of acute inflammation include:

  • Pain, either continuous or only when the affected area is touched

  • Redness

  • Loss of function or difficulty in movement, sensing, and so on

  • Swelling

  • Warmth in the affected area

While these signs commonly manifest when acute inflammation occurs, they may not always be present. Some cases of inflammation appear without symptoms. The affected person may also feel fatigued, generally unwell, or have a fever. 2. Chronic inflammation Chronic inflammation occurs over a longer period, typically lasting six (6) weeks or more. In some cases, it may last for years. This prolonged inflammation process is generally less severe and can occur even in the absence of illness or injury. Likewise, this type may last even after the illness or injury is healed. Chronic inflammation can develop under certain conditions, including:

  • Hypersensitivity to external trigger/s

  • Long-term, low-level exposure to an irritant

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Autoinflammatory diseases

  • Repeated and persistent acute inflammation

Symptoms of chronic inflammation tend to manifest differently than acute inflammation. These include:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Rash

  • Mouth sores

  • Muscle pain

  • Joint pain

  • Abdominal pain

  • Chest pain

Treatment Options There are several treatment options available for inflammation. These can be administered depending on the severity and type of inflammation, the associated disease, and other health factors.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs) work for pain management and reduces swelling and other symptoms of inflammation, rather than treating the cause. These drugs are available over the counter, but certain inflammatory conditions require prescription-strength ones. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin and ibuprofen. Taking NSAIDs over a long period of time should only be done with a doctor or medical professional's advice, as they can have adverse effects.

  • Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are a type of steroid hormone that affects certain functions and parts involved in the inflammation process. They are often prescribed to manage various conditions, such as arthritis, systemic lupus, hepatitis, asthma, and allergic reactions. Corticosteroids are available in different forms: pills, injections, topical creams and ointments, and inhalers. Doctors can prescribe corticosteroids to treat diseases that involve chronic inflammation, depending on the condition. Because of their serious side effects, they are usually only prescribed for short periods of time.

  • Herbal treatment

Some herbal supplements can manage inflammation. Supplements with Harpagophytum procumbens (known as Devil's Claw, wood spider, or grapple plant), hyssop, ginger, and turmeric can help manage various types of inflammation. These supplements should only be used after consulting with a doctor or medical professional for safe and effective treatment.

  • Anti-inflammatory diet

While diet alone cannot control or manage inflammation, it is a good supplement to other treatments to prevent it from worsening. An anti-inflammatory diet includes olive oil, tomatoes, nuts, leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, fruits, and high-fiber foods. There are also certain foods that must be avoided as they can aggravate inflammation. Fried food, those containing added sugar or high amounts of saturated and trans-fat, and highly processed food should be excluded from an anti-inflammatory diet. Stay Informed on Inflammation Inflammation is one of the ways the body reacts when it protects itself from harm. This immune response can help diagnose illnesses and injuries, which can prevent them from getting worse. Knowing the differences between acute and chronic inflammation is critical for managing one's health and detecting other medical conditions earlier on.

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