The word inflammation comes from the Latin word, inflammare, to set on fire. In the context of our immune system – heat, redness, pain and swelling – form as a reaction to trauma or infection.
If you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, you can see how inflammation normally occurs. In terms of illnesses such as colds and flu, swollen glands and puffy eyes and nose serve as a response to those viruses. This clearly shows the immune system at work trying to banish the disease from the body.
However, occasionally the immune system can get confused. Inflammation can cause the immune system to start attacking various parts of the body that it sees as a threat. In turn, that inflammation can lead to damage and leave you open to more illness, discomfort, and even disability.
What could the health consequences of persistent chronic inflammation be?
Inflammation has now been linked to many serious illnesses, including:
- Heart disease/Atherosclerosis and Stroke
- Various forms of cancer
- Arthritis, including osteoarthritis or other rheumatologic disorders and gout
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Thyroid conditions that can lead to hypothyroidism
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one example of the effects of inflammation in the body being clearly visible. With RA, the body creates antibodies that attach to the tissues that line the inside of your joints, known as the synovium, telling the immune system to attack it. RA causes the synovium to thicken, causing swelling and pain around and inside your joints.
The synovium create synovial fluid, which helps lubricate your joints and keep them moving like a well-oiled machine. If the synovium gets damaged, the joints are not lubricated properly, leading to pain, swelling and friction, which in turn leads to more pain. Due to the friction, the cartilage and bones can become damaged if RA is not treated effectively. RA can leave the joints of the hands distorted and painful, and cause swelling and pain in other joints as well.
In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the immune system starts to attack the myelin sheaths that protect our nerves. If these get damaged, it is like wires short-circuiting, leading to a range of symptoms all over the body, including:
- Blurred or double vision
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of coordination and muscle strength
- Loss of balance
- Numbness or tingling in a foot, arm or leg
RA and MS are just two examples of the effects of inflammation triggered by auto-immune diseases. But more subtly, other forms of arthritis, heart disease and cancers are linked to inflammation. There are many more illnesses in which inflammation has been discovered to play a key role.
Our immune system is a delicately balanced system, with inflammation being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be helpful in fighting off germs. On the other hand, if the immune system gets confused, inflammation will increase as the body starts to attack itself. Studies have shown that inflammation can affect almost every system in the body.
Fortunately, you can reduce inflammation by avoiding foods that trigger inflammation, steering clear of harsh chemicals, reducing your stress, stopping smoking, and exercising more. Focus on reducing inflammation and see what a difference it can make to your health.