What is inflammation?

Are you worried about a bite or scratch that’s red and feels warm? Do you have a painful, swollen joint from over-doing it in the gym?

Your body is amazing! The process you are witnessing is called inflammation – it’s a key part of your body’s defence system.

So, what exactly is inflammation, then?

Imagine that your body has it’s own security and repairs unit: they fight off baddies (such as bacteria or viruses), and they repair wounds.

  • Inflammation is your body’s immune response to protect itself, to try to remove something harmful and to start it’s healing process.
  • Many different things can trigger an inflammatory response; often it can be an infection or some foreign substance or an injury.
  • Your body responds by sending out various cells and chemicals to the area, to repair the damage.

Are there different types of inflammation?

Yes, mostly inflammation is a good response when it protects us from invading germs or harmful substances. It’s necessary for your wound to become red and warm: this is your body’s repair-unit rushing to the wound, and repairing the damage. However, it can become a problem when it occurs in the wrong areas for a long time.

a) Acute inflammation: this has a rapid on-set, can worsen quickly and the signs usually last for a few days or weeks.

Some examples include:

  • cuts, scratches or bites
  • acute infections (due to bacteria or viruses)
  • injuries or overuse strains
  • conditions that develop quickly and need urgent medical attention, i.e. acute appendicitis

b) Chronic inflammation: this has a longer duration, lasting from months up to several years.

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Some examples include:

  • auto-immune conditions – where the body’s immune system attacks it’s own healthy tissue, i.e. rheumatoid arthritis.
  • where the cause of acute inflammation is not removed, i.e. a foreign body.
  • where a long-term irritant persists, i.e. continual exposure to something that causes an allergic reaction, i.e. asthma or hay-fever.

What are the tell-tale signs of inflammation?

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Swelling
  • Loss of function or reduced function

How should you treat inflammation?

Remember, inflammation is part of your body’s natural healing process.

a) Acute inflammation:

  • requires treatment of the underlying cause (i.e. treatment of an infection, or removal of a foreign body)
  • use of anti-inflammatories (naproxen, ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol, corticosteroids)
  • R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • acupuncture, in certain cases

b) Chronic inflammation:

This usually happens when your defense-system is over-active, (like in asthma, where your lungs are too sensitive to dust, and your body sends too many of your repair & defense units. In other conditions, as in rheumatoid arthritis, the cause for the joint-dysfuncitons need to be treated, so that the inflammation is kept under control.

As with most things in your body, inflammation is a good, healthy response to keep you active and energised. It’s only when this process becomes overactive, or it starts attacking itself, that it is a problem. So, we only treat inflammation when it’s a problem.

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