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What is inflammation?

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Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to begin the healing process. When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a response by the body to try to remove it, the signs and symptoms of inflammation, specifically acute inflammation, show that the body is trying to heal itself. Inflammation does not mean infection, even when an infection causes inflammation. Infection is caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus, while inflammation is the body’s response to it.

Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. Initially, it is beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and tissues need care and protection as well as when the body is attacked by a bacteria or virus. However, sometimes inflammation can cause further inflammation; it can become self-perpetuating. More inflammation is created in response to the existing inflammation.

The signs of inflammation are

rubor, redness; calor,

heat (or warmth);

tumor, swelling;

and dolor, pain;

a fifth sign, functio laesa, inhibited or lost function, is sometimes added.

All these signs may be observed in certain instances, but none is necessarily always present.

The first stage of inflammation is often called irritation, which then becomes inflammation – the immediate healing process. Inflammation is followed by suppuration (discharging of pus). Then there is the granulation stage, the formation in wounds of tiny, rounded masses of tissue during healing. Inflammation is part of a complex biological response to harmful stimuli. Without inflammation, infections and wounds would never heal.
Acute inflammation – starts rapidly (rapid onset) and quickly becomes severe. Signs and symptoms are only present for a few days, but in some cases may persist for a few weeks.
Chronic inflammation – this means long-term inflammation, which can last for several months and even years. It can result from:

  • Failure to eliminate whatever was causing an acute inflammation
  • An autoimmune response to a self antigen – the immune system attacks healthy tissue, mistaking it (them) for harmful pathogens.
  • A chronic irritant of low intensity that persists
Rheumatoid arthritis, SLE, Psoriatic arthritis etc are examples of chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation

  • Causative agent – non-degradable pathogens that cause persistent inflammation, infection with some types of viruses, persistent foreign bodies, overactive immune system reactions
  • Major cells involved – Macrophages, lymphocytes, plasma cells (these three are mononuclear cells), and fibroblasts
  • Primary mediators – reactive oxygen species, hydrolytic enzymes, IFN-γ and other cytokines, growth factors
  • Duration – from several months to years
  • Outcomes – the destruction of tissue, thickening and scarring of connective tissue (fibrosis), death of cells or tissues (necrosis)

In arthritis many inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are released which keep increasing inflammation in a never ending cycle.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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