Inflammation can affect every part of your body in different ways, both outside and inside your structure. Inflammation itself is not all bad – it is part of how the body’s defence mechanism works when it recognises an invader or intruder and wants to remove it. Sometimes this mechanism goes wrong unfortunately, when the body confuses its own cells with intrusive ones, resulting in a condition called Autoimmune Disease. It is also a sign of when something is not right, so in that respect, it can be valuable in diagnosing an illness or condition that may not be obvious to the eye.
Inflammation can be caused by minor injuries such as cuts, bruises or skin irritants, or more serious conditions as the result of an attack by viruses, bacteria or other pathogens.
What are the signs of inflammation?
The majority of these are quite obvious and are mainly visual. Thousands of years ago, inflammation was categorised as having the following characteristics:
- Redness (rubor)
- Swelling (tumour)
- Heat (calor)
- Pain (dolor)
- Loss of function (functio laesa)
Nothing has changed, has it? Those symptoms still apply in many cases.
Types of inflammation
There are two types of inflammation at different ends of the scale:
- Acute inflammation – caused due to several reasons, such as substance or irritant exposure, minor injuries (cuts, bruises, bites, stings or even dust etc). Any of these can result in inflammation and potentially infection. Equally so, some infections lead on to acute inflammation, including sore throats, bronchitis or any other illness ending in ‘itis’, which means ‘inflamed’. Unfortunately, if acute inflammation persists, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which is far worse. Acute inflammation should clear up within a week but if it persists after medical intervention (such as lotions, creams or other medications), you do need to consult with your doctor.
- Chronic inflammation – There are many reasons for this to occur, usually resulting in pain and a sufferer being debilitated much more than in an acute situation. This more serious condition will potentially develop if:
- You are sensitive to specific items that you either consume or use topically (you will more than likely need a test, such as this to ascertain the cause). If you are hypersensitive to a particular irritant, this can result in an allergy.
- Exposure to specific irritants such as cleaning products, chemicals etc.
- Autoimmune conditions, where your immune system cannot recognise the body’s’ own cells and tissues and forms an attack mode e.g., skin conditions such as psoriasis, Graves’ Disease, pernicious anaemia, colitis.
- Autoinflammatory disease, a little rarer but includes conditions such as Behcets and Crohn’s. There is some school of thought that these types of conditions are genetic, but more research is needed.
Chronic inflammation can last for a long time and may be something that you have to live with long term. You can get treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms but currently, there is no guaranteed cure.
A very important thing to remember, as you may be wondering why IBS is not mentioned here, particularly if you are one of the millions of people who suffer from it. The reason for this is that it is neither an autoimmune condition, nor an autoinflammatory one. It is graded as a ‘functional bowel disorder’, even though it can be pretty painful, inconvenient and debilitating physically, and also mentally. It is inflammatory however, and can be treated, but not cured.
Why is inflammation painful?
As a short but descriptive reason, an inflammation can vary in its degree of pain. It may be 100% painful all of the time with either throbbing or stabbing pain, or it could be a short, very sharp, intermittent pain. Once fluid begins to build up it causes swelling, brought on by whatever has caused it internally or externally. Any swelling to cells or tissues causes them to ‘squash or pinch’ the nerve endings in your system. The nerves contribute to any pain you may be experiencing.
Can a change of diet help inflammation?
In some cases, yes it can. For instance, conditions such as IBS can be treated, in some cases very successfully. Most diseases that involve your gastrointestinal system are well-served with a change in diet to anti-inflammatory foods. Much has been recorded on anti-inflammatory diets and what foods to eat.
In a nutshell, although it is wise to consult the help of a dietician, a helpful choice of foods to fight inflammation are based on whole, unprocessed foods and no added sugar, such as, fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds and olive oil. A little low fat is also recommended when it comes to dairy products. If you are used to eating lots of tasty sauces etc, try changing to flavoursome herbs and spices.
To summarise, there are two types of inflammation, with the acute variety mostly being curable in a short period of time. Chronic inflammation is more serious and can lead to the advent of critical diseases and potential cell or tissue death or scarring. Quick action, testing and diagnosis on both acute and chronic inflammation can prevent further trouble down the line, or relief of symptoms and pain.