After hearing that certain medical conditions can cause inflammation, and alternately, that inflammation itself causes certain other medical conditions, it is hardly a surprise that so many people are confused by the whole situation. Inflammation: just what is this vague, ubiquitous “inflammation” everyone’s talking about?
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is an immune response generated naturally to protect the body from harm. During the process, white blood cells rush to a point of exposure (a cut; a bruise; etc.) and produce certain healing substances and a physical reaction that protects the vulnerable area from bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies.
Inflammation is preceded first by irritation. When external, inflammation is characterized by swelling, redness and pain, and is, at last, succeeded by a pus discharge and a scabbing process.
There exist two kinds of inflammation.
1. Acute Inflammation
The acute type of inflammation is rapid, severe and short term. Symptoms usually last only a few days, but can occasionally persist for some weeks. Acute inflammation is caused by, among other things, bronchitis, ingrown toenails, the flu, wounds, exercise, tonsillitis, and sinusitis.
2. Chronic Inflammation
The other variety of inflammation is chronic inflammation. The central difference: this type is long-term and lasts for months, and sometimes for years. Chronic inflammation is, broadly, a failing of acute inflammation to deal with whatever is afflicting the body.
This kind of inflammation is caused more specifically, by any number of the following health complications:
- Any autoimmune response
- A persistent exposure to irritants
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Crohn’s disease
Another central difference between acute and chronic inflammation is that the later is known to cause, after long-term exposure, any number of illnesses including, but not limited to, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis (yes, it causes, and is caused by, chronic inflammation) and periodontitis.
Factors Linked to Worsened Inflammation:
Studies suggest that a poor diet, hormone imbalances, high stress levels (both physical and emotional), obesity, and a lack sleep all contribute to worsened inflammation.
In many cases of acute inflammation, treatment is unnecessary. Inflammation, if acute, is the body’s natural process of preventing illness, and as such may be best left untreated. However, in some circumstances the pain from acute inflammation is very intense; and, as mentioned, leaving chronic inflammation untreated is not only painful, but potentially hazardous—so it is important to consider your treatment options.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin can reduce inflammation.
- Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, will help reduce anti-inflammatory pain but will not reduce the inflammation itself.
- Corticosteroids are also anti-inflammatory.
The most well known natural method of providing inflammatory relief is by icing—the application of ice can drastically reduce inflammation.
A wide variety of natural substances are also thought to reduce inflammation. These include fish oil, green tea, tart cherries, ginger, turmeric, cannabis, and harpagophyum procumbens (a South African plant also known as “devil’s claw”).