Inflammation- What is it and what can be done?
A lot of diseases generate a great amount of pain. Often this pain is caused by inflammation. An inflammatory process is not an infection but it is the body’s natural healthy reaction to a harmful stimulus.
There is a big difference between an acute and a chronic inflammation.
The initial acute inflammation is needed for successful healing of the body- however it is not healthy to have a persisting inflammation for more than a few days. Unfortunately this chronic inflammation is part of a lot of chronic diseases. Instead of a short, vicious, site-specific burst of fighting as in classical acute inflammation, chronic inflammation involves a long, relatively mild, systemic grind. Think an explosion compared to a smouldering fire.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation occurs as a natural and healthy reaction of the body trying to fight a harmful stimulus.
Classic acute Inflammation is usually characterised by:
What exactly happens in the body during an inflammatory process?
We all know how the skin reacts when we get a little scratch: it becomes red, itchy, raised and warm. This is a prime example of an acute inflammation.
A harmful stimulus creates dilation of the blood vessels, allowing more blood to rush to the problem area. This allows the white blood cells, prostaglandins, histamine, bradykinins to reach the damaged areas and start their immune function against the irritant. This is why the area turns red and hot.
Those cells both destroy the pathogen and further increase the permeability of the small blood vessels: The local capillaries become more permeable which means that the blood can easily leak out of the vessels and reach the space in between the cells. This generates more swelling. The swelling can result in reduced movement in the affected area.
In addition, all this increased cell activity raises the temperature which makes the environment less habitable for any bacteria/viruses and therefore kills them further. This is why it also turns red and hot.
Inflammation is easily visible if it occurs on the surface (like in a scratch), however when organs or joints get inflamed, the symptoms may not be those classic ones: Pain will be the main one.
The process of the inflammation (the swelling and increased chemical activity in the damaged area) pushes against sensitive nerve endings, which send pain signals to the brain.
What makes inflammation worse?
Having poor sleep quality and short sleep duration are linked to increased levels of inflammation. So make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep a night!
Smoking. This is particularly true with regards to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), where it both increases the likelihood of getting RA and worsening of its symptoms.
Being overweight means that there are more inflammatory markers in the body, so having a healthy weight is very important if you suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases. Even just losing a few pounds can make a big impact on the body!
Chronic inflammatory diseases:
What can help to reduce inflammation?
NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen or aspirin. If used longterm there is a risk for stomach ulcers and kidney damage.
Paracetamol does not actually reduce the inflammation, but adresses the pain.
Corticosteroids are synthetic steroid hormones and they are anti-inflammatory. They are very efficient but have a long list of side effects- especially if taken longterm.
However, there is a natural way of lowering inflammation: Icepacks (not on the bare skin) can reduce the pain and swelling because they cause blood vessels to constrict. This is more applicable to a an acute inflammation, like a sports injury. Here it is advisable to rest, ice, compress and elevate the injured part as soon as possible after the event.
Try to reduce the stress in your life and make sure to get a good amount of high quality sleep.
There is a lot of reserach proving that changing your diet to an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the pain- more on that in a different article on here!
➢eat better (read more about inflammation and diet in another article on this website)