Understanding Inflammation and How Its Effect on Health?
- The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation
- Acute Inflammation
- Chronic Inflammation
- Causes, Symptoms, and Effects of Inflammation on the Body
- Possible Treatments for Inflammation
- Watch a Relevant Video
- Look at the contents of the next article – Coming Soon.
Inflammation, or painful hot swelling, is a feeling familiar to many of us. It’s a key symptom of several health conditions, from hay fever to autoimmune disease, and of course, occurs in the face of acute injury.
However, what is often neglected in the common parlance regarding inflammation is the discussion of its potential harms and how to waylay those detriments. As children, the vast majority of us are taught to ice a strained muscle; people who menstruate are taught that anti-inflammatories will help their bloating.
The bottom line is that inflammation is a process that is a part of life. It’s the body’s natural defense mechanism that plays an important role in the healing process. When the body becomes injured, it is usually at risk of getting infected.
Inflammation comes in to speed up the healing process by trying to remove the agent that is causing the injury. In the same process, the inflammation aids in getting rid of damaged tissue cells in order for the area to start healing.
Inflammation is essentially good for our bodies and is necessary for healing to occur. However, the sensation of the process usually isn’t too pleasant. This may cause us to question whether inflammation is good or bad.
The throbbing, red, and painful swelling is a step we would all wish to skip in the healing process. That said, although inflammation is good for us, it can also go wrong. In some cases, inflammation becomes a more long-term or constant issue. In the next section, I explain the difference between acute and chronic inflammation.
The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation
While acute inflammation can be a healthy part of your immune system’s response to infection or injury in the short-term, chronic inflammation can last months or even years, all the while placing strain on your body’s natural equilibrium.
This continued state of alertness can wreak havoc on your tissues and organs. In fact, a 2019 study found that chronic inflammation can “lead to several diseases that collectively represent the leading causes of disability and mortality worldwide, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders” (Furman et al., 2019).
This is why it is vital that we—and our healthcare providers learn to recognize the symptoms of chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, these symptoms can often be more subtle than those of acute inflammation, enabling them to “fly under the radar” of many patients and healthcare practitioners.
For instance, fatigue can often be dismissed as a nutritional imbalance or the result of poor sleep habits. However, it is crucial that the possibility of chronic inflammation be considered if you are experiencing extreme exhaustion, non-restorative sleep, and malaise after exertion.
Likewise, unexplained changes in mood, weight, or gastrointestinal health are regularly tied back to underlying inflammation issues, particularly when experienced in conjunction with one another. Becoming aware of these connections will allow you to manage inflammation in as timely a manner as possible, enabling you to take control of your life and move forward with it.
When recognizing these often-inconspicuous combinations of symptoms, it can be helpful to be aware of factors that may contribute to the development of chronic inflammation. Keep in mind that the presence of said factors does not necessarily indicate the existence of inflammation, nor does their absence eliminate the presence of chronic inflammation.
Instead, knowing that chronic stress has the potential to disrupt the regular functioning of your immune system, leading to chronic inflammation, can give you the tools to analyze your own health and wellbeing.
Similarly, if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease such as arthritis, lupus, coeliac disease, or Crohn’s, chronic inflammation will be an unfortunate byproduct of your body’s dysregulated immune response, and treating it can help you to reduce distressing symptoms such as chronic pain and repeated infections.
If you suspect that these contributing factors, in conjunction with any health complaints you may be experiencing might be explained by chronic inflammation, it is then time to explore the options you have for management.
Speaking to your primary care physician is generally the first mode of action. They may be aware of details in your medical history that confirm or exclude a secondary diagnosis of chronic inflammation.
They might also choose to take blood samples for phlebotomy lab work. These can be useful to remove other possible explanations for your symptoms.
Additionally, a simple lab test for C-reactive protein (CRP) can indicate the presence of infection or inflammation. CRP levels below 3.0 mg/L will signify a low chance of chronic inflammation issues.
Between 3.0—19.9 mg/L, moderate elevation of these pro-inflammatory proteins occurs, which may be of some concern. If your lab results show any unexplained CRP measurement of 20.0 mg/L or more, this should be wholeheartedly investigated. It is important to note that many people with long-term illnesses will generally have CRP levels that exceed far above this.
For such people, anti-inflammatory treatment can make a world of difference in symptom severity and general wellbeing (Nehring et al., 2021). There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation is what we call short-term inflammation, while chronic inflammation tends to persist for long periods of time. An injury or infection will likely cause one’s body to react with acute inflammation in an effort to get rid of an unwanted agent in the body that is causing disruption.
There are various agents that can cause acute inflammation. These include but are not limited to injury, dust particles, pollen grains, and viruses or bacteria.
The body recognizes these agents as well as others as harmful foreign material and, as a result, gears itself to get rid of them through various processes, including acute inflammation.
Acute inflammation can occur anywhere from hours to days, depending on the severity of the injury as well as the location. When it occurs, you will feel a warm, painful, and swollen sensation afflicting the area.
This can be extremely uncomfortable, depending on the location of the inflammation. After a few days, the swelling should go down on its own or with the aid of medication or home remedies. Ultimately, acute inflammation is a process that is designed for our benefit.
However, as stated previously, in some situations, the inflammation continues for a period longer than anticipated. Chronic inflammation occurs when a process designed for the good of the body turns to work against it.
In the case of chronic inflammation, the body fails to recognize that there is no longer a threat and continues to release white blood cells.
This is a state that is not conducive for health and can lead to various illnesses that are hard to live with. When inflammation occurs, the white blood cells are sent to the point of injury to destroy any foreign or damaged material in the area.
When the inflammation lasts for a longer period, the immune system continues to send white blood cells to aid in healing an area in the body but in this case, the white blood cells find no area to heal. They then begin to attack healthy tissues, as in the case of type 1 diabetes.
Causes, Symptoms, and Effects of Inflammation on the Body
There are various causes of inflammation, which is why it’s important to note that the presence of inflammation does not always mean there is an infection in that area. Untreated chronic inflammation can lead to a number of other diseases.
The prolonged immune response results in the destruction of healthy tissue cells, which may cause internal scarring. Several diseases may result, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, cognitive decline, and dementia.
It’s usually easy to notice symptoms of acute inflammation, while symptoms of chronic inflammation tend to be harder to detect. These include fatigue, depression, anxiety, body pain, weight gain, weight loss, persistent infection, and gastrointestinal complications. As you can see, many of these could easily pass as indicators of other conditions.
Possible Treatments for Inflammation
As mentioned earlier, acute inflammation is a natural response and therefore can subside on its own. On the other hand, chronic inflammation should be treated with more intensive intervention.
Taking into consideration that prolonged chronic inflammation can lead to other complicated illnesses, it is wise to visit your doctor should you suspect that you have chronic inflammation.
There are various treatment options that you may explore together, including pharmaceutical drugs, exercise, rest, and changes to your diet. So, what might such treatment look like? This is a vital question to ask.
As is the case with much of modern medicine, the standard first port of call for healthcare practitioners tends to be down the road of pharmaceuticals. It is crucial that these only be prescribed with the patient’s informed consent.
Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and define effectively reduce inflammation and its accompanying pain in the short term, making them an ideal solution for acute inflammation.
However, in the case of chronic inflammation, it can be detrimental to your overall health. NSAIDs are strongly linked to an increase in the risk of developing stomach ulcers, and even in their gentlest forms, they can be incredibly damaging to gastrointestinal health (Drina, 2017).
Therefore, taking an NSAID for chronic inflammation connected with a gut condition is strongly discouraged. Likewise, NSAIDs have the potential to wreak havoc on your kidneys. By depleting enzymes connected with prostaglandin synthesis, they can largely impact renal function, leading to a 20% increase in the risk of chronic kidney disease (Phillips, 2019).
Moreover, these drugs “can cause sodium and fluid retention (especially in the elderly) and increase blood pressure or worsen pre‐existing high blood pressure” (Drożdżal et al., 2021). Despite these risks, NSAIDs continue to account for up to 10% of all prescribed medications every year (Wongrakpanich et al., 2018).
That said, it is important that patients—and in particular, those with chronic conditions—remain informed of the benefits and risks associated with these drugs. A further pharmaceutical avenue regularly offered to sufferers of chronic inflammation is that of corticosteroids.
These steroids partially resemble cortisol, a hormone naturally produced in the human body and released when the fight-or-flight nervous system response is triggered. As with NSAIDs, in the short term, corticosteroids can work near miracles.
They lower inflammation and reduce immune response, which can be a crucial aspect of managing an autoimmune disorder. They can be prescribed in a wide variety of forms, including tablets, injections, topical creams, and so on.
However, just as with their non-steroidal counterparts, corticosteroids come with potential hazards when used repeatedly in the treatment of chronic inflammation. Nausea and gastrointestinal distress are just the beginning of where things can go wrong.
“Up to 40% of patients on long-term glucocorticoids develop bone loss, leading to fractures” (Yasir et al., 2021). A similar proportion of long-term users of corticosteroids develop high blood pressure.
Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases fourfold, and cataracts become increasingly prevalent in patients, correlated with their usage patterns. Again, this is not to say that corticosteroids do not have their time and place in the management of chronic inflammation, but it is best to be aware of these issues and discuss them with your primary care physician when determining a method of treatment for you.
As we progress, you will see that there are methods of treatment for chronic inflammation which just might prove a safer option for you.
Read More About chronic inflammation
Finding the right treatment plan for yourself can take a while. You should speak to your health practitioner before making any decision you may be considering.
In most cases, people have found that what may work for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for themselves, so be sure not to give up on your quest for finding the right solution.
Although you have a chronic illness, you do not have to live your whole life in pain, and it is a great blessing to have a variety of treatment options for your condition.
Stick with it and give this and that a try until you find what works well for your individual needs. A non-pharmaceutical option for the treatment of inflammation is simply gentle movement.
Non-taxing forms of exercise that are accessible to you will help to improve blood flow and regulate immune response, therefore decreasing inflammation levels.
For instance, if you are capable of walking, a 20-minute leisurely walk is enough to produce moderate to large anti-inflammatory effects (Dimitrov et al., 2017). Following this up with two 60-second sessions of foam rolling multiplies this anti-inflammatory effect to a degree unparalleled by pharmaceutical options (Pablos et al., 2020).
Partaking in mild exercise every day has a range of benefits, from controlling your weight to strengthening your muscles. Exercise can prove painful for someone with chronic inflammation, which might make you want to sit on the couch or in bed the whole day.
However, as tempting as this may be, it isn’t a good idea. You don’t have to exert yourself in strenuous exercises, like jogging or lifting heavy weights, but it’s important to remember that a little exercise can go a long way for your inflammation.
Simply committing yourself to walk to the shop to buy bread and milk should be enough to train your muscles for movement. The idea is to make sure that your muscles stay functioning so that you can go about doing your daily tasks. This way, you will have the power to live your life with as little dependence as you can.
Moderate daily exercise is also enough to spark the essential immune response that your body needs to release anti-inflammatory agents into the bloodstream. That said, it is important to note that in the case of exercising with an inflammatory disease, mild exercise is better than overexercising.
You need to ensure that you don’t overexert yourself, as this can worsen your condition. Depending on your goals, you may find that you need to withstand mild levels of inflammation to reach those goals.
If you are subscribed to a local gym, you can inform your personal trainer of your condition so that they can find more information on how to better help you in achieving your goals. Or better yet, you can find a trainer who has worked with people with chronic inflammatory diseases before.
Sadly, however, many people with chronic inflammation find themselves in the depths of pain and fatigue before learning of the underlying cause.
In cases such as these, the recommendation by healthcare practitioners to exercise can feel like a slap in the face, knowing that even completing daily tasks can be a struggle. To reach the point of being able to implement this lifestyle change, it is often necessary to engage in a period of rest.
Watch a Relevant Video
The contents of the next article which titled as The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Basics.
- The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What It Is and the Different Types Out There
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The Low Sugar Diet
- The Pescatarian Diet
- Conditions Cured by the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid