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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

What Inflammation Really Is, and How to Tackle It

What Inflammation Really Is, and How to Tackle It

When most of us think of inflammation, the first thing that generally tends to come to mind is the swelling and uncomfortable redness that accompanies any kind of acute injury. Bang your finger with a hammer? Your finger gets inflamed. Twist your ankle? Your ankle gets inflamed. And the fact is that this type of inflammation, called acute inflammation, is exactly that -- an acute response to an acute injury.

Dexter Cooke
Health
Dec 16, 2021

Table of Contents

When most of us think of inflammation, the first thing that generally tends to come to mind is the swelling and uncomfortable redness that accompanies any kind of acute injury. Bang your finger with a hammer? Your finger gets inflamed. Twist your ankle? Your ankle gets inflamed. And the fact is that this type of inflammation, called acute inflammation, is exactly that -- an acute response to an acute injury.

There is, however, another type of inflammation that you probably do not even notice: chronic inflammation. This second type of inflammation can be a serious health concern that, at the same time, is also often difficult to notice. Because of both of these attributes, it is vital to understand what chronic inflammation is, how to recognize it, and how to treat it.

So What Exactly Is Inflammation?

You would think that if acute inflammation is when a specific injury swells up the chronic inflammation is when that same swelling stays with you, and you would be partially correct. Chronic inflammation is inflammation that lasts a long time, that much is true. But it is also a type of inflammation that tends to be far more systemic.

To understand how and why this is, we first need to understand a bit more about what inflammation is at the microscopic level. When your body notices damage or danger of damage, it sends out inflammatory cells and cytokines. The cytokines are simply cells that stimulate more inflammatory cells. These inflammatory cells are what inflammation really is, and they are not always located in a single part of your body.

If, for instance, you catch a cold, your body will recognize the threat and send out the above-mentioned cells to fight off the infection. In cases like this, your whole body is inflamed, as the virus is in every part of your body. This systemic type of inflammation is a vital part of the immune system when working properly, but it can spell disaster if it starts to act up.

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Your immune system is incredibly complex, so the inflammation is likely caused by an assortment of factors. Some of these factors can be outside of your control. Autoimmune disorders such as lupus can cause your immune system to go into overdrive. Exposure to chemicals that are toxic can do the same, too. When acute inflammation is left unchecked, it can also lead to systemic and chronic inflammation.

Lifestyle choices also play a large role in inflammation, and fortunately, these are factors that you can do something about. They can include the usual suspects, such as drinking too much, smoking, overeating, stress, and a general lack of regular exercise.

How to Identify Chronic Inflammation

Because many of the symptoms caused by chronic inflammation are also associated with a number of other diseases, it can be hard to identify them. While the only surefire way to accurately diagnose inflammation is with a blood test for inflammation, there are many symptoms to look out for that can help you know when to bring inflammation up with your doctor.

These include fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, abdominal pain, chest pain, skin rashes, fever, and open sores. As you can see, the symptoms run the gamut across seemingly unrelated areas of your health. So if you think you might be suffering from inflammation, it is crucial that you discuss it with a medical professional.

What Treatments Exist for Inflammation?

The answer to this question depends greatly on the specific details of your case, and you should take the time to research more detailed information about treatment options. That said, there are three tools that are usually effective in most cases. The first is supplements. The most common ones are Vitamin D, fish oil, and zinc.

However, there are also a number of common spices that have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Chiefly among these are garlic, turmeric, and ginger. The second tool you can use is to take NSAIDs. The three NSAIDs with which you are likely already familiar are aspirin (Bayer), naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil). These can be picked up over-the-counter at any pharmacy and are generally fairly safe to use.

The last tool is steroid injections. These corticosteroid injections can be remarkably effective at treating chronic inflammation at specific parts of the body, but they are not practical for more systemic inflammation. If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hip, for instance, your doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid injection. Regardless of the type of inflammation you have, the most important thing is to recognize it and identify it. That way, you can finally get the treatment you need to help you better manage it.

Dexter Cooke | He is an orthopedic surgeon who insists that a physician's first priority should be patient care. He specializes in minimally invasive complete knee replacement surgery and laparoscopic procedures that reduce pain and recovery time. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina with a medical degree and a postdoctoral fellowship in orthopedic medicine.

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