Depiction of joint inflammation

Growing up I kept hearing about inflammation when anything went wrong or hurt in my body.  "Oh, your tonsils are inflammed", the doctor would say when I had a sore throat or when I twisted my ankle and it became red, hot or swollen I was told that it was inflammed.  I knew inflammation was connected to things hurting, being red and swollen but I really couldnt tell you what it was exactly.

There are two types of inflammation that could be present in our bodies.  Acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.  Acute inflammationusually happens as a result of injury or infection and it is a natural and short-lived process that helps the body fight off infections and heal injuries as a result of the activation of the body's immune response.  Chronic inflammation is a prolonged and dysregulated (dysfunctional) immune response that persists over an extended period of time. We will look more at chronic inflammation as that tends to go un-noticed and can affect us more profoundly than acute inflammation.

Key features of chronic inflammation include:

  1. Duration: Chronic inflammation persists for an extended period, often for weeks, months, or even years.

  2. Cellular Infiltration: Immune cells, such as macrophages and lymphocytes, infiltrate the affected tissues and release inflammatory mediators.

  3. Tissue Destruction and Repair: Prolonged inflammation can lead to tissue damage and attempts at repair. However, the repair process may become compromised, leading to the formation of scar tissue.  In this case, tissue damage often outpaces tissue repair.

  4. Systemic Effects: Chronic inflammation can have systemic effects, impacting organs and tissues throughout the body. This can contribute to the development of various chronic diseases.

Conditions associated with chronic inflammation include:

  1. Autoimmune Diseases: Conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

  2. Chronic Infections: Persistent infections, such as certain viral or bacterial infections, can lead to chronic inflammation.

  3. Metabolic Disorders: Chronic inflammation is implicated in the development of metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  4. Neurodegenerative Diseases: Conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are associated with chronic inflammation in the brain.

  5. Cardiovascular Diseases: Chronic inflammation plays a role in the development and progression of heart diseases, including atherosclerosis.

  6. Cancer: Chronic inflammation is linked to the initiation and promotion of certain cancers.

Several factors can contribute to the development of chronic inflammation, including:

  • Persistent Infections: Infections that the immune system cannot eliminate completely.
  • Autoimmune Reactions: When the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to pollutants, toxins, or certain dietary habits, for example regular consumption of fried foods, can contribute to chronic inflammation.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Lack of exercise, poor diet, chronic stress, and inadequate sleep can also promote chronic inflammation.

Managing chronic inflammation often involves addressing the underlying causes such as diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle inclusive of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.  In some cases it also involves using anti-inflammatory medications. Regular medical check-ups and consultations with healthcare professionals are essential for individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions.

Michelle O'Neal-Woods

Michelle O'Neal-Woods

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