A localized physical condition where part of the body becomes reddened, hot, swollen, and often painful, usually as a reaction to infection or injury is referred to as ‘inflammation’. This is a protective response involving blood vessels, molecular mediators, and immune cells. The task of inflammation centers around eliminating the initial cause of cell injury, initiate tissue repair, clear out necrotic cells and tissue damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process. Here Jessie Szalay, LiveScience.com, reflects on the topic of inflammation and the healing process:
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“Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. It is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.
Without inflammation as a physiological response, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly.
However, if the inflammatory process goes on for too long or if the inflammatory response occurs in places where it is not needed, it can become problematic. Chronic inflammation has been linked to certain diseases such as heart disease or stroke, and may also lead to autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But a healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep inflammation under control.
Acute inflammation occurs after a cut on the knee, a sprained ankle or a sore throat. It’s a short-term response with localized effects, meaning it works at the precise place where a problem exists. The telltale signs of acute inflammation include redness, swelling, heat and sometimes pain and loss of function, according to the National Library of Medicine.
In the case of acute inflammation, blood vessels dilate, blood flow increases and white blood cells swarm the injured area to promote healing, said Dr. Scott Walker, a family practice physician at Gunnison Valley Hospital in Utah. This response is what causes the injured area to turn red and become swollen.
During acute inflammation, chemicals known as cytokines are released by the damaged tissue. The cytokines act as “emergency signals” that bring in your body’s immune cells, hormones and nutrients to fix the problem, Walker said.
In addition, hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins create blood clots to heal damaged tissue, and they also trigger pain and fever as part of the healing process. As the body heals, the acute inflammation gradually subsides.
Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation can have long-term and whole-body effects. Chronic inflammation is also called persistent, low-grade inflammation because it produces a steady, low-level of inflammation throughout the body, as judged by a small rise in immune system markers found in blood or tissue. This type of systemic inflammation can contribute to the development of disease, according to a summary in the Johns Hopkins Health Review.
Low levels of inflammation can be triggered by a perceived internal threat, even when there isn’t a disease to fight or an injury to heal, and sometimes this signals the immune system to respond. As a result, white blood cells swarm but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they may eventually start attacking internal organs or other healthy tissues and cells, Walker said.
Researchers are still working to understand the implications of chronic inflammation on the body and the mechanisms involved in the process, but it’s known to play a role in the development of many diseases.”
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