Chronic versus acute inflammation
Posted on 1 June 2018
Inflammation is a word bandied about quite often by health food shops and is equally the subject of much scientific study and debate. Here’s what you really need to know about inflammation.
Why it matters
In an otherwise healthy individual, acute inflammation is part of a healthy functioning immune system in response to a temporary illness or injury.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can arise from conditions that put your body in a state of constant high alert, such as autoimmune conditions (rheumatic diseases for example). It is also increasingly being linked to bad lifestyle choices such as low activity levels, obesity and a diet high in refined foods.
‘The body’s rapid and immediate response to a threat in order to protect tissue is called acute inflammation,’ explains Dr Owen Wiese, a GP at Intercare Tygervalley. ‘If the body can’t rid itself of this threat or if the cause is persistent and not removed, it can lead to chronic inflammation. The same goes if the body mistakes healthy tissue as foreign material and starts attacking it.’
In short, acute inflammation serves a purpose: to restore you to good health while chronic inflammation can lead to serious chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes. Alternatively, it could indicate that the patient may be suffering from a more serious condition such as asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or even tuberculosis.
How it works
Lymphocytes are white blood cells made up of B cells or T cells. The B cells produce specific antibodies in your bone marrow in response to a threat while T cells cell co-ordinate an immune response. The antibodies recognise an attack on your body, such as a virus or foreign object (like a splinter), and initiate an inflammatory response. If the response is acute, such as an ingrown toenail, you will experience four common symptoms at the site of infection or injury: heat, swelling, redness and pain.
Managing acute inflammation
These symptoms should be managed by your doctor, as he or she may need to prescribe antibiotics to get rid of a bacterial infection. For injuries, your doctor can assess the damage and prescribe treatment to help with the pain and swelling or remove the foreign object and possibly treat the effects of inflammation with a short course of anti-inflammatories, provided they are not contraindicated.
In chronic inflammation, the symptoms are different and will vary according to the inflammatory disease. They may include mouth ulcers, low-grade fever, joint pain, chest pain, rash, stomach pain or chronic fatigue and may develop over time.
Inflammatory diseases can also produce a temporary response in reaction to a perceived ‘threat’. For example, a severe allergic reaction after being exposed to an allergen. In this case, the “protective response” becomes dangerous, rather than facilitating a healing process.
Too much of a good thing
With chronic Inflammation, as your body is on high alert at all times, this prolonged ‘stress’ state eventually takes its toll and can even exacerbate plaque build up in your arteries and veins or make your body more prone to insulin resistance. Chronic inflammation is increasingly being linked to plaque build up in the brain as in the case of Alzheimer’s disease.
Easy things you can do to help your body manage chronic inflammation
If you experience any chronic symptoms of inflammation, these should be discussed with your doctor to rule out serious illness.
‘It’s important to identify the exact cause of inflammation for doctors to treat it effectively,’ adds Dr Wiese. ‘During chronic inflammation, your body will need all reserves to keep you as functional as possible. A poor lifestyle adds extra strain to your body systems, which in the case of autoimmune conditions are already under strain’.
Keep in mind that:
- Moderate and appropriate exercise has the ability to reduce inflammation
- Repeat injuries such as repetitive occupational injuries can contribute to chronic inflammation
- Healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish oils as well as certain herbs and spices may reduce inflammation
- Sugars and unhealthy fats may increase inflammation
- Smoking and drinking alcohol may increase inflammation