Inflammation is a defense mechanism in the body. The immune system recognizes damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and it begins the healing process.
When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try to remove it. The signs and symptoms of inflammation can be uncomfortable but are a show that the body is trying to heal itself.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response.
It can be beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and tissues need care and protection. However, sometimes, inflammation can persist longer than necessary, causing more harm than benefit.
Symptoms of inflammation vary depending on whether the reaction is acute or chronic.
The effects of acute inflammation can be summed up by the acronym PRISH. They include:
- Pain: The inflamed area is likely to be painful, especially during and after touching. Chemicals that stimulate nerve endings are released, making the area more sensitive.
- Redness: This occurs because the capillaries in the area are filled with more blood than usual.
- Immobility: There may be some loss of function in the region of the inflammation.
- Swelling: This is caused by a buildup of fluid.
- Heat: More blood flows to the affected area, and this makes it feel warm to the touch.
These five acute inflammation signs only apply to inflammations of the skin. If inflammation occurs deep inside the body, such as in an internal organ, only some of the signs may be noticeable.
For example, some internal organs may not have sensory nerve endings nearby, so there will be no pain, such as in certain types of lung inflammation.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation present in a different way. These can include:
An acute inflammation is one that starts rapidly and becomes severe in a short space of time. Signs and symptoms are normally only present for a few days but may persist for a few weeks in some cases.
Examples of diseases, conditions, and situations that can result in acute inflammation include:
- acute bronchitis
- infected ingrown toenail
- a sore throat from a cold or flu
- a scratch or cut on the skin
- high-intensity exercise
- acute appendicitis
- infective meningitis
- a physical trauma
What is chronic inflammation?
This refers to long-term inflammation and can last for several months and even years. It can result from:
- failure to eliminate whatever was causing an acute inflammation
- an autoimmune disorder that attacks normal healthy tissue, mistaking it for a pathogen that causes disease
- exposure to a low level of a particular irritant, such as an industrial chemical, over a long period
Examples of diseases and conditions that include chronic inflammation:
Rheumatoid arthritis involves chronic inflammation.
- chronic peptic ulcer
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- active hepatitis
Although damaged tissue cannot heal without inflammation, chronic inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and hay fever.
Inflammation needs to be well managed.