Inflammation occurs when your body’s immune system responds to a foreign invader or another stimulus. When most people think of inflammation, it’s in reference to the pain, redness and swelling as a result of a wound. But while this is the type of inflammation that you can see, the reality is that a vast variety of conditions all over the body cause inflammation. And while many types of inflammation are helpful in healing from an injury or a disease, other types of inflammation can be harmful and lead to chronic health problems.
Causes of Inflammation
Any time your body is injured, infected or invaded by a foreign substance like an allergen, the body’s immune system kicks into action. The fallout from all this activity is inflammation, which can take the form of symptoms such as swelling, heat, redness, loss of function and pain, among others. With a cut or a scrape, you can actually see and feel the signs of inflammation as your body begins the healing process. In other parts of the body, though, the signs of inflammation are more subtle. For example, a virus or bacteria may be leading to inflammation somewhere inside your body, and you may have few or no symptoms that indicate that this is occurring.
Complications of Inflammation
Since inflammation relates to your body’s immune response, it is often considered part of the healing process. But inflammation can sometimes be harmful to the body, as well. There are certain diseases where the body’s immune system gets confused and begins fighting its own cells and tissues. This leads to harmful inflammation, where the body’s own immune response is the source of the problems. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are some examples of this. In addition, inflammation seems to also play a role in worsening many common, chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine; National Cancer Institute.
Chronic inflammation in middle-age may increase risk for cognitive problems later in life.