Arthritis. Colitis. Pancreatitis. Tonsillitis. Sinusitis. All very different medical conditions with very different symptoms, but all having one thing in common: Inflammation. The ending of each of these conditions, -itis, is the medical term that is used to describe inflammation, which can be chronic or acute. So what is it, exactly? Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response and an attempt at beginning the healing process by removing harmful stimuli. Without an inflammatory response, the body would not be able to heal damage to tissue, heal wounds, or rid itself of infections.
Symptoms of inflammation vary from person to person and are also dependent on whether or not the inflammation is chronic or acute. Acute inflammation is often broken down into three different characterizations: Pain, redness, immobility, swelling, and heat. Areas that are inflamed are likely to be painful, it’s also not uncommon to develop redness and swelling as a result of a buildup of fluid and capillaries filling with more blood than usual, which can also cause the inflamed area to feel warm to the touch. In addition, depending on the area of the body that is affected, inflammation can also result in temporary loss of function – for example, the legs. Symptoms of chronic inflammation can also be similar, but they may also present in other ways, such as joint pain, fatigue, mouth sores, chest pain, abdominal pain, fever, and even a rash.
While infections are a common cause of inflammation, having inflammation doesn’t always mean that an infection is present. Acute inflammation can be the result of a respiratory tract infection, or it can be the result of something as minor as an ingrown toenail that then becomes infected, having a scratch on the skin, or even high-impact fitness. Certain physical traumas can also result in inflammation. If inflammation is acute, it is typically a rapid onset, and only likely to last for a few days to a week. Chronic inflammation, however, is considered long-lasting (from months to years) and can be the result of stress, hormones, asthma, peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, hepatitis, food allergies, trigger foods (such as dairy, fatty red meats or cured meats), food additives, sugar, alcohol, and even certain household products/chemicals. Chronic inflammation is also caused by pathogens in the body that are unable to break down, whether it’s from a virus, a foreign body, or simply an overactive immune response.
Having an autoimmune disease can also cause inflammation. These include everything from type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, celiac disease, and more. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you are likely to suffer from some or several of the following symptoms: Fatigue, ache muscles, swelling and/or redness, low-grade fever, numbness and tingling of the hands and/or feet, hair loss, skin rash, and you may also have trouble concentrating. On some days these symptoms may be worse than others, and they may also come and go. If you go a certain length of time being symptom-free only to experience symptoms again, this is known as a flare-up.
Often described as a steady aching, throbbing, pulsating, stabbing or pinching sensation, inflammation can be incredibly painful, making it hard for someone suffering from chronic inflammation to go about their usual day to day activities such as school, work, or attending social functions and other fun events such as sports or live concerts. Because of this, it is not unusual for someone with chronic inflammation to also develop issues with their mental health, such as anxiety or depression.
The most important part of treating inflammation is reducing the symptoms. As pain is the most common symptom associated with both acute and chronic inflammation, physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary will usually recommend their patients take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, to try and relieve that pain as well as decrease the level of inflammation within the body. NSAIDs work by counteracting the enzyme that contributes to inflammation, which can either prevent the inflammation from occurring all together or significantly reduce the pain that is caused by the inflammation. Common NSAIDs include Aspirin and Ibuprofen, which can be found at any pharmacy, as well as Naproxen, which is also available at pharmacies or can be written as a prescription by your family doctor or specialist. It is important to note that long-term use of NSAIDs can increase the risk of developing stomach ulcers, which may result in bleeding with can be severe and sometimes life-threatening, and they can also worsen the symptoms of asthma, may lead to kidney damage, and can also increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. To reduce this risk, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends avoiding long-term use of NSAIDs and trying Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) instead. While this type of drug won’t actually reduce inflammation, it can still reduce the pain that is associated with inflammation itself. While Acetaminophen also comes with risks associated with long-term use, it is considered a much safer medication for those who require prolonged relief. As a more natural way of relieving inflammation, several foods are also known to help, including fresh fruit such as blueberries and orange, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, nuts, tomatoes, and olive oil. For more healthy eating options, click here or follow Dr. Ghahary on Twitter and Instagram.