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What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a biological response to stimuli that the body considers harmful. Such stimuli can include irritants, damaged cells, or pathogens. When inflammation occurs, an individual is likely to experience pain, swelling, redness, and heat on the affected area.

The body uses inflammation in protection of itself. Inflammation is a means of attempting to remove the irritant or pathogen or to repair the damaged cells. Chronic inflammation may lead to certain diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever, periodontitis, or certain types of cancer. Because inflammation can be so damaging, the body closely manages it via pain and other indications.

There are two types of inflammation: chronic inflammation and acute inflammation.

Chronic Inflammation:
Chronic inflammation is inflammation that is prolonged or continuous. Chronic inflammation results in a progressive shift in the types of cells that are present in the area where the inflammation is occurring. Healing and destruction on the site occurring simultaneously characterize chronic inflammation.

Acute Inflammation:
Acute inflammation is the short term or initial response to harmful stimuli that occurs in the body. Acute inflammation is the result of plasma and leukocytes increasing movement from blood and into the injured areas of the body.

The inflammatory response is perpetuated by a string of biochemical events within the tissue that involve the immune system, the vascular system, and the numerous cells.

Specific stimuli that may cause inflammation in the body are: alcohol, stress, ionizing radiation, blunt physical injury, penetrating physical injury, toxins, frostbite, chemical irritants, immune reactions, splinters, burns, or infections by pathogens.

Inflammation that occurs in different parts of the body bears different names. Typically the inflammation is indicated by the suffix “itis”. For example, tendonitis is an inflamed tendon, whereas appendicitis is an inflamed appendix. Other common types of inflammation include:
Bursitis: the inflammation of one or more small sacs (bursae) of synovial fluid
Colitis: the inflammation of the colon
Cystitis: the inflammation of the urinary bladder
Dermatitis: the inflammation of the skin
Phlebitis: the inflammation of a vein
Rhinitis: the inflammation of a mucus membrane inside the nose
Tonsillitis: the inflammation of the tonsils
Vasculitis: the inflammation of the blood vessels

Acute inflammation typically appears within a few hours of an injury or other harmful stimuli occurring. The five most common symptoms of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

If the stimuli that cause acute inflammation persist for days, weeks, or even months, it is considered chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is typically accompanied by tissue destruction. The reason for this is that chronic inflammation occurs due to a dominating presence of macrophages in a tissue that has been injured. Macrophages act as powerful defenders of the body; however, they release certain toxins that actually have a negative impact on the tissues. This results in a degradation of tissue.

Different types of inflammation are treated differently, and therefore it is important that the cause of an inflammation be identified so that the proper treatment may be administered.

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