What is Inflammation?
There are a lot of products and diets out there that promise to combat inflammation, but what does that mean? What is inflammation? What causes it, and how does it influence our health?
Inflammation is one of those health industry buzzwords that you see often, but it’s never really defined. So often, it’s tied to some product that promises to reduce inflammation, with a tagline that inflammation is the leading cause of some scary-sounding condition. It may surprise you that inflammation is a natural occurrence for our bodies. While inflammation can have health detriments and chronic inflammation can influence or lead to certain illnesses or conditions, you can’t eliminate inflammation entirely. So, to show you that we don’t have to fear a little inflammation and that it can be controlled, let’s explore exactly what it is, how it can influence your health, and how you can control it. Once we understand inflammation, it’s not as scary.
What Is Inflammation?
As we hinted at earlier, inflammation occurs naturally in the body as an immune response. There are generally two kinds of inflammation that we may experience, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is a short-lived bout that lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Chronic inflammation may last longer, sometimes from months to years. While both can have symptoms, it’s chronic inflammation that can lead to health complications. More on that later.
What are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
Common symptoms that you may experience along with inflammation are redness and swelling at the site of the injury or inflammation. You may also experience joint stiffness and pain. The site of the swelling may also be warm to the touch. Sometimes, inflammation may lead to flu-like symptoms, like a loss of appetite, headaches, fever, chills, and fatigue. This all depends on where the inflammation is and the cause of the inflammation, since you may not experience loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss from joint inflammation.
The swelling and joint pain you experience with arthritis is the result of the autoimmune reaction caused by rheumatoid arthritis, leading to the inflammation.
The symptoms of chronic inflammation can change depending on the ongoing cause. For example, a common condition that causes inflammation is rheumatoid arthritis. The swelling and joint pain you experience with arthritis is the result of the autoimmune reaction caused by rheumatoid arthritis, leading to the inflammation. A skin rash caused by an allergic reaction is an example of an external cause that could be leading to chronic inflammation if you are regularly exposed to the allergen.
What Causes Inflammation?
So, what causes inflammation? Your immune system, actually. Inflammation is an immune response from our body to protect against infection and injury. When the immune system is triggered, white blood cells are called in to protect the body. This causes blood flow to increase in the area, which results in the redness and warmth. At the same time, tissues release plasma proteins that can cause swelling.
This, of course, is the cause of acute inflammation, but what about chronic inflammation? While it’s certainly possible that a chronic case may be caused by a persistent case of acute inflammation, it is more often than not the result on an ongoing cause, whether that’s a health condition or a persistent irritant (like an allergic reaction or hazardous material in your environment). Either way, if you are experiencing chronic inflammation, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to find out what could be causing it so that you can begin treatment.
Any condition that ends with the suffix -itis is an inflammatory disease, because -itis literally means “inflammation.”
As we touched on earlier, there are many conditions that can cause inflammation. Many autoimmune diseases can cause inflammation as the illness causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis is one such example, but most autoimmune diseases that target the joints and skin can lead to inflammation. If we’re talking about diseases that cause inflammation, we can’t ignore inflammatory diseases. Effectively, any condition that ends with the suffix -itis is an inflammatory disease, because -itis literally means “inflammation.” So, arthritis comes from anthron (Greek for joint) and -itis, or inflammation of the joint. Bronchitis means inflammation of the bronchia, and so on.
How Does Inflammation Affect Our Health?
Besides the immediate symptoms, acute inflammation shouldn’t present too many long-term health complications. As soon as the initial cause of the inflammation clears up, so should the symptoms. It isn’t the acute cases that many refer to when talking about the long-reaching effects inflammation can have. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, has been linked with cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and cancers.
Beginning to treat your inflammation and the underlying causes may help to prevent these concerns in the future.
There are even links developing between inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have even found that inflammation may play a part in developing diabetes. This is why you should speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing chronic inflammation. Beginning to treat your inflammation and the underlying causes may help to prevent these concerns in the future.
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Inflammation has become a word that’s often used in marketing or to promote a certain diet or lifestyle change. It’s true that chronic inflammation can have a negative influence on your health and that even acute inflammation may not be a fun side effect of our immune system. But we also shouldn’t fear a natural function of our bodies. Instead, we need to strive to understand it so that we can relieve the symptoms when they occur acutely and pinpoint the underlying causes when they last longer. Equally as important, understanding inflammation may prevent you from being duped by a snake oil health product promising to cure something that your body does on its own.
Just like you, your health is one of a kind. What works for one person may not for another, so the information in these articles should not take the place of an expert opinion. Before making significant lifestyle or diet changes, please consult your primary care physician or nutritionist. Your doctor will know your own health best.