When feeling pain and seeing a swelling or redness, do you panic? Even slightly? It’s normal. These are signs of inflammation that often worries people because you know there’s something wrong with that part of your body.
However, contrary to common belief, inflammation is not always bad. Inflammation is the body’s way to protect itself and heal after an injury or infection. It’s part of your immune response, wherein the immune system identifies the foreign objects or pathogens and tries to destroy them and prevent further damage to the body.
If so, why do people often worry about inflammation? Why does it have a negative connotation? That brings us to the two types of inflammation – acute and chronic.
The Differences Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation is the short-term inflammation that’s a normal part of the body’s immune response when it recognizes foreign objects or infection. Whenever there’s damage to the tissue, the immune system reacts and sends specialized cells to address the injury or fight off infections.
Once the injury has healed, inflammation will subside on its own. It takes a few days and up to six weeks. Acute inflammation often doesn’t need medications, although you can take over-the-counter medications to manage the symptoms when they become uncomfortable or unbearable. Otherwise, it’s best to let inflammation do its job.
However, inflammation can become persistent. When that happens, chronic inflammation happens. It’s when inflammation stays longer than necessary, keeping the body in high alert. Sometimes the body can’t heal the injury or remove the foreign substance. Sometimes inflammation stays even after the injury is gone.
Inflammation is considered chronic when it persists longer than six weeks, which can be harmful to the body because it remains in a state of inflammation unnecessarily. Experts believe that chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases, including asthma, heart problems, and cancer.
Symptoms of Inflammation
Acute inflammation happens quickly and can become severe in just a short time. The common signs of acute inflammation are redness, warmth in the affected area, swelling, pain, and loss of function. It’s easy to distinguish because of these apparent symptoms, although inflammation can also be non-evident.
Chronic inflammation usually develops slowly, and you may barely notice it. When either form of inflammation is doing significant damage to the body, you may feel the following symptoms:
- Mouth sores
- Frequent infection
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Muscle stiffness
- Mood disorders
- Weight gain
Causes of Inflammation
Cold, sore throat, flu, bronchitis, or physical wound or trauma are some of the conditions that lead to acute inflammation. When a harmful pathogen or foreign substances enters your body, it triggers the body’s immune response. It sends white blood cells to the site. The blood vessels dilate, and the blood flow increases. The body also releases chemicals that cause blood clots to cure the injury or infection.
When it comes to chronic inflammation, the body feels like it’s always under attack. It happens when it cannot break down pathogens, cure the injury, or adequately deal with whatever the trigger is. White blood cells swarm the area and may even start attacking healthy cells and tissues. Chronic inflammation may also occur due to long-term exposure to irritants, such as harmful chemicals, pollution or toxic foods.
Major risk factors of chronic inflammation include the following:
- Older age
- Unhealthy diet
- Chronic stress
- Sleep disorders
- Hypersensitivity to irritants
Impact of Inflammation
Inflammation can make the immune system hyperactive. It can also damage blood vessels and cause blood clots that can block the arteries to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke. In some cases, chronic inflammation can damage the DNA and result in cancer.
It is increasingly believed by many health researchers that there is a correlation between all disease and inflammation. Some of the conditions with strong links to chronic inflammation are:
- Irritable bowel disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
Inflammation is a necessary part of the body’s natural processes and healing mechanisms as long as it can do its job. However, too much of a good thing is dangerous. As such, you must avoid contracting chronic inflammation, starting with your lifestyle choices. Keep your body active by doing regular exercise, quit your harmful habits like smoking, and sticking to a healthy diet that’s free from processed foods and rich in nutrients.