After being diagnosed with autoimmune disorders there were buzz words I started hearing. As time has gone by I hear them more and more often and one word stands out: inflammation. Today I want to talk about what that word means, how it affects us and how do we eliminate it or reduce it.
What is inflammation?
The word inflammation comes from the Latin “inflammo”, meaning “I set alight, I ignite”.
Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens – and begin 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, specifically acute inflammation, show that the body is trying to heal itself.
Inflammation does not mean infection, even when an infection causes inflammation. Infection is caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus, while inflammation is the body’s response to it.
So this sounds like inflammation is a good thing. It is letting us know that something is happening and our body is trying to correct it.
Inflammation helps wounds heal
Our immediate reaction to a swelling is to try to bring it down. Bearing in mind that inflammation is an essential part of the body’s attempt to heal itself, patients and doctors need to be sure that the treatments to reduce swelling are absolutely necessary and to not undermine or slow down the healing process.
This sounds great, but what about the inflammation we have? We don’t have any wounds, our inflammation is mostly internal.
When inflammation occurs deep inside the body, such as an internal organ, only some of the signs may be detectable. Some internal organs may not have sensory nerve endings nearby, so there be no pain present,
What is the difference between chronic inflammation and acute inflammation?
Acute inflammation – starts rapidly (rapid onset) and quickly becomes severe. Signs and symptoms are only present for a few days, but in some cases may persist for a few weeks.
A few examples of acute inflammation are:
- Infected ingrown toenail
- Sore throat from a cold or flu
- A scratch/cut on the skin
- Exercise (especially intense training)
- Acute appendicitis
- Acute dermatitis
- Acute tonsillitis
Chronic inflammation – this means long-term inflammation, which can last for several months and even years.
Chronic inflammation can result from:
- Failure to eliminate whatever was causing an acute inflammation
- An autoimmune response to a self-antigen – the immune system attacks healthy tissue, mistaking it (them) for harmful pathogens
- A chronic irritant of low intensity that persists.
Examples of diseases and conditions with chronic inflammation include:
- Chronic peptic ulcer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic periodontitis “inflammation around the tooth”
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
Chronic inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions, including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritisrheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and hay fever. Inflammation needs to be well regulated.
Autoimmune disorders and inflammation
We know that an autoimmune disorder is one where the body initiates an immune response to healthy tissues, mistaking them for harmful pathogens or irritants. The immune response triggers an inflammatory response too.
There are literally hundreds of autoimmune diseases, and nearly all of them have inflammation as one of the signs, examples include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – there is inflammation in the joints, tissues surrounding the joints, and sometimes some other organs in the body
- Celiac disease– there is inflammation and destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine
- Crohn’s disease – the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed. Inflammation is most common in the ileum (small intestine), but may occur anywhere in the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus
- Fibromyalgia– often a set of symptoms related to another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. There is pain in various parts of the body. Location and even the existence of inflammation is unclear
- Lupus – there can be inflammation in the joints, lungs, heart, kidney and skin
- Psoriasis- there is inflammation of the skin. In some cases, as in psoriatic arthritis, the joints and tissue surrounding the joints may also become inflamed
- Addison’s disease– inflammation of the adrenal glands. The stress to the body caused by this disease can also lead to inflammation elsewhere
The disorders mentioned above are just a tiny example of the hundreds of autoimmune disorders which have inflammation as one of their signs.
In my next post I will talk about how to reduce the inflammation.