What Causes Inflammation in the Body?
Most of the time inflammation is an integral part our body’s defenses, protecting healthy tissue from outside harm. Unfortunately, there are occasions when the inflammatory process goes unchecked, becoming out of control, and negatively impacts the body it’s meant to protect.
What Is Inflammation?
Part of the body's immune response, inflammation occurs as a result of outside stressors, including injuries, toxins and infection. When the immune system is provoked by any of these dangers, it activates specific proteins which help safeguard tissue and cells. If the immune system overreacts, it can cause sustained chronic inflammation, leading to a number of serious ailments.
Acute vs. Chronic
To differentiate between healthy and harmful inflammation, it's important to first distinguish between acute and chronic inflammatory responses. There are a number of stimuli that can trigger immediate, temporary, inflammation. Some examples of acute inflammation include:
- Acute bronchitis
- Sore throat
- Acute tonsillitis
- Acute dermatitis
- Acute sinusitis
- Acute appendicitis
- A cut, scratch or blunt injury
In the above examples, inflammation resolves when the triggering stimuli subsides over time or through treatment with various medications. When inflammation persists due to the body either failing to clear the stimuli or when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, chronic inflammation and disease can ensue. Examples of chronic inflammation include:
- Chronic sinusitis
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Chronic periodontitis
- Chronic active hepatitis
- Chronic peptic ulcer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Chronic inflammation has also been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, dementia and other serious conditions.
Symptoms of Inflammation
When people experience acute inflammation, they generally notice pain, immobility, redness, swelling and/or heat in a specific area of their body. Symptoms of chronic inflammation can be somewhat more subtle and may include ongoing pain, asthma-like or allergic symptoms, problems with blood sugar levels, elevated blood pressure, changes in bowel habits, abdominal pains, lethargy, fatigue, eye symptoms or rash.
In addition to a comprehensive physical exam, doctors may order specific blood tests to assess whether a patient has a chronic inflammatory process. Treatments for chronic inflammation vary widely depending on the specific stimuli triggering the patient’s condition. Some conditions resolve with simple dietary changes, while others may require the long term use of strong immunosuppressant medications.