What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a general immune response designed to protect the body from harm. It is a reaction designed to help the body fight off diseases and clear away harmful substances.

Wikipedia lists the components of inflammation as being heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

Inflamed areas of the body are often warm to the touch and redder than surrounding areas. This is because the body sends blood to affected areas to help fight off infection.

Pain from inflamed areas can be due to damage that caused the inflammation or the release of chemicals in the body that stimulate nerve endings in the affected area. Due to the discomfort it causes, inflammation can compromise a person’s ability to engage in regular daily activities.

What Causes Inflammation?

Inflammation has a variety of causes, but it’s important to remember it’s a defense mechanism from your immune system. The reason why you experience it is because your body is trying to protect you. The different causes of inflammation fall into three fundamental categories.

1. Infectious Disease

Whether it is bacteria, viruses, fungus, or parasites, inflammation is a typical response designed to help the body fight against these invaders. The increased blood flow at the area helps white blood cells combat against microbes determined to make their home in your body.

2. Chemicals and Harmful Substances

Irritants, allergens, toxins, and similar substances can provoke an inflamed response from the body. In this case, the immune response is designed to help the body get rid of the chemical in question. Inflammation may also be present to help repair any damage the chemical has caused.

3. Injury

Inflammation appears at the sight of injuries so that the body can begin repairing tissue. It also prepares the immune system to fight against any pathogens that might use the injury to enter the body and cause problems.

How Does Inflammation Help?

While inflammation might be inconvenient, if not downright painful, it is a necessary part of your body’s response to damage and illness. Moreover, acute inflammation appears in response to injury or. Without it, your body’s ability to recover from harm would be compromised.

Besides bringing white blood cells to the affected area in order to help fight off infection, nutrients and chemical signals are being carried through the blood to begin the process of healing. It also carries any toxins away from inflamed parts of the body so that the liver can dispose of them. It helps dispose of damaged cells, allowing their components to be reabsorbed by the body.

Acute inflammation generally disappears once the body is done repairing tissues and after the immune system has successfully eliminated any infections.

Can Inflammation Go Wrong?

While it is true that inflammation is a natural and often necessary bodily process designed to help deal with disease and injury, it can at times cause problems for our health. In some cases, the illnesses that we experience are, themselves, a form of inflammation.

One example is asthma. Asthma is when the airways leading to the lungs get inflamed. It is typically caused by breathing in irritants such as airborne chemicals or dust.

While these things certainly don’t belong in our lungs, the inflammation they cause is usually far more unpleasant and dangerous. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 250,000 people die every year from asthma.

Other forms of harmful inflammation come from autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders are illnesses in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Many of these disorders produce chronic inflammation, as the body is constantly attempting to fight against itself.

One of the most common examples is rheumatoid arthritis. With this disorder, the body’s immune system attacks the joints, producing pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis, like many other autoimmune disorders, may be successfully managed with proper medical care, including medications.

Sometimes chronic inflammation can come from the body’s inability to fight off an infection. They usually persist because the pathogen never goes away. Even in these cases, the body’s well intentioned attempt to fight illness can result in health problems. Affected tissues may die or be scarred. In other cases, it may also increase cancer risk.

Inflammation Is a Body’s Natural Immune Response

Despite the problems that inflammation can cause for us, it is usually far more beneficial to us than it is harmful.  Without it, we would be far more susceptible to infectious diseases and our bodies would be unable to heal from injury.  It’s necessary for us to maintain our health.

That being said, it is always necessary to see a doctor when inflammation is chronic or has an unknown cause.  Your doctor will always be ready to help you get to the root of the problem.

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