Inflammation in the Body
Published: 16th March, 2021 in: Health
Inflammation is usually the side effect of injury or infection but inflammation is also linked to a number of other health conditions and factors. This can be a cause for concern and could result in mobility issues, pain and even tissue damage.
Find out what inflammation is, when it is good and when it is bad, as well as how to treat inflammation when necessary.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is one of your body's defence mechanisms used in the healing process. For example, if you suffer a trauma or have an infection in a certain area, it may become inflamed. This is your body’s biological response to try and expel the foreign body from your system and begin the healing process, whether this is debris, a pathogen or an irritant.
It does this by increasing blood flow to the damaged tissue to both deliver important blood cells and proteins and wash away unwanted breakdown products or debris.
It occurs when your white blood cells try to protect the affected area from further infection until it has healed. It does this by increasing blood flow to the damaged tissue in order to deliver important proteins for healing and wash away any foreign bodies. This is exactly what inflammation is designed to do and is known as acute inflammation and will usually subside within a few days or weeks. Chronic inflammation on the other hand can last months, or even years.
Chronic Inflammation in the Body
Chronic inflammation occurs when there is no infection or trauma yet inflammation still remains. Essentially, the body has identified its own tissue as harmful and begins to attack it. This can lead to autoimmune diseases and conditions.
Is Inflammation Bad?
In most cases, inflammation is not bad. It is there to serve a purpose, helping to protect areas of the body that have undergone trauma or are infected. It also helps to kickstart the healing process.
Chronic inflammation on the other hand is bad as it does not serve any purpose to the body; rather tissue is actually damaged as a result. Chronic inflammation could lead to autoimmune diseases such as Arthritis, Vasculitis, Juvenile Dermatomyositis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and organ damage.
Arthritis - The tissue surrounding the joint swells, causing fluid to collect there making joints painful and stiff. This affects mobility and can even make it difficult to walk or stand in severe cases.
Vasculitis - Vasculitis occurs when the blood vessels become inflamed. This can cause blood vessels to narrow and has varying degrees of severity. There are various forms of vasculitis with symptoms ranging from joint pain and tiredness to organ failure and depression.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus - More commonly known as Lupus, this can result in extreme tiredness, joint and muscle pain, as well as skin issues such as rashes. There is no cure but symptoms can be managed with treatment. Those diagnosed with Lupus commonly have inflammation around the kidney, heart, liver, joints and/or lungs.
Juvenile Dermatomyositis - JDM is an autoimmune disease that affects children. Inflammation can cause skin rashes to appear on the face and body, as well as muscle pain and weakening. There is no cure however it may only occur for a number of years then go away on its own however, it can come back after a period of remission.
Organ Damage - Just as organs such as the kidney can be damaged due to inflammation resulting in conditions such as Lupus, other organs can also be damaged in this way. This can cause pain, mobility issues as well as a whole host of related health conditions.
Inflammation is often confused with swelling however, they are two distinct terms. Swelling refers to the collection of fluid around an area, usually as a result of trauma, whereas inflammation is an immune response from the body. The reason these two things are often confused is likely because swelling is a symptom of inflammation, rather than an interchangeable term.
If an area of your body is inflamed, the skin will usually become red and hot due to the increased blood flow to the area. The cells also undergo intense activity which can cause them to leak into the skin tissues, with fluid and proteins; this results in swelling. You may also see pus coming from the affected area.
In addition to this, you will likely have muscle or joint pain and have difficulty moving the inflamed area of your body. For example, if your knee is inflamed, you may find it difficult to straighten your leg and will be unlikely to be able to walk or put weight on the knee.
Chronic Inflammation Symptoms
Inflammation of the above kind is nothing to worry about, it is simply your body trying to heal itself however, chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health conditions so it is important to spot the symptoms.
Your exact symptoms will depend on the affected area of the body, for example, if your bowel is inflamed you may experience diarrhoea, stomach cramps, weight loss and extreme tiredness. Weight loss and fatigue are common symptoms amongst inflammatory diseases, as is pain in the affected area so look out for inexplicable joint and muscle pain. Some inflammatory diseases such as Lupus and Vasculitis can also result in a fever.
If you think you are suffering from chronic inflammation, contact your GP. If left untreated, irreversible damage could be done to your body’s tissues. Your GP will be able to provide you with the right treatment to help in the management of symptoms, as well as giving you the right diagnosis and treatment of associated illnesses.
In most cases, inflammation is caused by trauma and/or infection. When the body sees that an area of tissue has been damaged or infected, blood flow is directed to that area to deliver important proteins, protect the area from bacteria and further infection in order to aid the healing process.
Chronic inflammation on the other hand is caused by the body itself. This occurs when the body mistakenly diverts blood flow to a particular area of the body in order to ‘heal’ it despite no infection or trauma being present. It essentially attacks its own cells which can cause tissue damage, loss of mobility and pain.
Inflammation and Diet
Diet is also a factor that has been linked to chronic inflammation, especially in conditions like arthritis. The NHS recommends that those with inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, should strive to maintain a healthy weight. This is because too much body fat can increase the amount of inflammation in the body making joints more painful and reducing mobility. In addition to this, certain foods can make inflammation worse. For example, foods that contain a lot of saturated fat can increase inflammation, as can foods rich in omega-6
Polyunsaturates. Monounsaturates or ‘neutral’ fats on the other hand do not cause increased inflammation. Fish oils such as omega 3 are also useful for helping to reduce inflammation in the body.
From this, we can see that diet can play a huge role in helping to reduce chronic inflammation. So what foods should you avoid and what foods should you eat more of?
- Foods high in saturated fat e.g. pastries, full-fat dairy products, chocolate, crisps etc.
- Foods rich in omega-6 polyunsaturates e.g. oils and margarine derived from corn and sunflower sources.
- Monounsaturated fats e.g. olive oil/olive oil-based products
- Lean meat
- Fruit and vegetables
- Fish oils - usually found in fish with darker flesh e.g. mackerel, tuna, sardines etc.
- Omega-3 enriched eggs
Inflammation and Ageing
As the body ages, excess fat tissue is produced. This can lead to inflammatory disorders such as type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Whilst the reason for this is not yet known, the NHS are currently carrying out research into this area. They are also looking into how the proportion of white blood cells and cell interaction could be linked to inflammation and the ageing process.
In normal circumstances, inflammation occurs for a reason and will go away on its own. You can however take ibuprofen to help manage pain and reduce inflammation of the affected area. Products, such as Ibuleve Max Strength Ibuprofen Gel, can also be applied to injuries such as strains and sprains to help reduce inflammation. Products, such as the Deep Freeze Cold Patches, can also help to reduce pain and soothe tense, tired and sore muscles.
If inflammation persists, this becomes chronic inflammation. Inflammation can affect the body in different ways therefore, you should always visit your GP if you think something is wrong. Depending on your condition your doctor will prescribe an appropriate course of treatment for your needs.
Your doctor may suggest that you eat a Mediterranean style diet (lean meat, fish, vegetables and healthy oils and fats) as this can help to reduce inflammation in the body. If you are a vegetarian or do not like fish, they may also suggest supplements such as omega-3 fish oil capsules.
They may also recommend that you exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy weight. In doing this inflammation in the body can be reduced helping to relieve related symptoms.