The cardinal symptom is the main symptom used by healthcare professionals to make a diagnosis. In the case of inflammation, there are five main characteristics that characterize the condition: pain, fever, redness, swelling, and loss of function.
Interestingly, inflammation is a biological process that your body uses in response to infection. However, it is important to note that not all of the top five symptoms are present in all cases of inflammation. Also, the inflammatory process could continue without a trace and cause no noticeable symptoms.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a complex process that involves a variety of cellular and signaling proteins that protect the body from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. Inflammation helps the body make white blood cells and other substances.
Sometimes the immune system inappropriately triggers an inflammatory response. This is the case with autoimmune diseases . The body compensates for this by attacking its own healthy tissue, acting as if it is infected or abnormal .
When the inflammation process begins, chemicals from the white blood cells are released into the bloodstream and affected tissues to protect the body. The chemicals increase blood flow to infected or injured areas of the body, causing redness and warmth in those areas.
These chemicals can also cause fluid to enter the tissues, causing swelling. This protective process also stimulates the nerves and tissues, causing pain.
Inflammation is classified as acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is short-term in nature and chronic inflammation is long-term and even destructive.
Acute inflammation can include fever (sometimes from fever) or heat in the affected area. Acute inflammation is a necessary and healthy function that helps the body attack bacteria and other foreign matter anywhere in the body. Once the body heals, the inflammation subsides.
Examples of conditions that cause acute inflammation include:
- Acute bronchitis , which causes inflammation of the airways that carry air to the lungs .
- Infected ingrown toenail.
- Flu-related sore throat.
- Cuts and scrapes on the skin.
- Dermatitis , which describes various skin conditions, including eczema, which causes red, swollen, and itchy rashes on flexed areas of the skin (for example, inside the elbows and behind the knees).
- Sinusitis , which can cause short-term inflammation of the lining of the nose and surrounding sinuses (usually as a result of a viral infection ) .
- Physical trauma
On the other hand, chronic inflammation can continue to affect healthy areas if it persists. It can occur anywhere in the body and can cause a large number of chronic diseases, depending on the area of the body affected.
Examples of conditions that cause chronic inflammation include:
- Inflammatory arthritis , which encompasses a group of conditions characterized by inflammation of the joints and tissues (including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriatic arthritis) .
- Asthma , which causes inflammation of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. The inflammation causes a narrowing of the airways and shortness of breath.
- Periodontitis , which causes inflammation of the gums and other supporting structures of the teeth. It is caused by bacteria caused by local inflammation.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD refers to Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which ultimately leads to damage to the GI tract .
There are five main signs of inflammation, although in severe cases it can also cause additional symptoms.
Inflammation can cause joint and muscle pain. When the inflammation is chronic, the person experiences an increased sensitivity to pain and stiffness. Inflamed areas may be tender to the touch.
In both acute and chronic inflammation, pain is the result of inflammatory chemicals that stimulate nerve endings, making the affected area more sensitive.
When inflamed areas of the body feel hot, it is because there is more blood flow to those areas. People with arthritis may have joint pain that feels warm to the touch. However, the skin around these joints may not be as hot. Inflammation of the entire body can cause fever as a result of an inflammatory response to illness or infection.
Inflamed areas of the body may be red in color. This is due to the fact that the blood vessels in the inflamed areas are filled with more blood than usual.
When a part of the body is inflamed, edema often occurs. It is the result of the accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the whole body or in a specific affected area. Swelling can occur without inflammation, especially with trauma.
Loss of function
Inflammation can cause loss of function due to both injury and illness. For example, an inflamed joint cannot move properly or breathing may be difficult due to a respiratory infection.
The reason for all these symptoms is the same: cytokines entering the bloodstream lead to increased vascular permeability, which promotes the migration of immune cells into the tissues.
Additional signs and complications
Severe inflammation can cause additional signs and symptoms. This can include fever, malaise, and exhaustion.
Inflammation caused by disease can have dangerous complications, including a condition called sepsis .
Sepsis occurs when the body's immune system fully reacts to a serious infection, resulting in widespread, life-threatening tissue damage .
Common treatments for inflammation include non-steroidal anti -inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids, although it is also important to identify and treat the underlying cause of the inflammation, be it an infection or another problem.
NSAIDs can relieve pain associated with inflammation. They also work against enzymes that promote inflammation to reduce these processes. Examples of NSAIDs are over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen.
Sometimes health care providers prescribe stronger NSAIDs for people with chronic inflammation, including medications such as Mobic (meloxicam) and Celebrex (celecoxib).
Long-term use of NSAIDs is associated with stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding, so it is important to speak with your healthcare professional before using NSAIDs for more than 10 days. NSAIDs can also make some conditions worse, such as asthma and kidney problems. They also increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Corticosteroids prevent inflammation. There are two different types of corticosteroids: glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are prescribed for conditions that cause inflammation, such as inflammatory arthritis, IBD, asthma, and allergic reactions. They are available in the form of pills, injections, and inhalers, but creams and ointments can be prescribed to relieve inflammation of the skin, eyes, and nose.
Mineralocorticoids, a second type of corticosteroid, are often prescribed for people with adrenal insufficiency.
Corticosteroid side effects are more common when these drugs are taken by mouth. Inhalers and injections can reduce side effects. Inhaling the medicine can cause thrush (yeast infection) in the mouth, so it is important to rinse it with water after use.
Additional side effects, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include :
- Increased appetite and weight gain.
- Humor changes.
- Slight bruising
- Blurry vision.
- Increased body hair.
- Reduced resistance to infection.
- Swelling of the face
- Stomach irritation
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Water retention and edema.
- High blood pressure
- Worsening of diabetes symptoms.
Long-term use of corticosteroids has been associated with:
- Osteoporosis , a condition of weak bones.
- Cushing 's syndrome is a condition that occurs as a result of taking corticosteroids. Symptoms include a fat hump between the shoulders, purple stretch marks, and a rounded face.
- Ulcers and bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract.
- Heart disease.
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Inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process and there is usually nothing to worry about. But when inflammation is chronic, it can be a serious health problem. Anyone experiencing ongoing inflammation should speak with their doctor about identifying the source of the inflammation and prescribing appropriate treatment to avoid serious complications.
Frequently asked questions
Inflammation is a normal biological response to any irritant that can harm the body. Its purpose is to eliminate the cause of the injury and clean out the damaged cells so that they can be replaced by healthy cells. This is a complex process that can cause symptoms that we easily recognize as "inflammation."
The five main signs of inflammation, localized (in a specific part of the body) or systemic (affecting the whole body):
- Loss of function
Acute inflammation occurs early in the injury, which usually lasts for several hours or days. It has two components:
Chronic inflammation is inflammation that persists for months or years, usually as a result of a chronic condition such as diabetes , heart disease , COPD , or HIV . Over time, chronic inflammation can have serious consequences, causing organ changes that can increase the risk of heart attack, cancer , and other diseases associated with aging.
The causes of inflammation are extensive and can be broadly classified as: