The word "inflammation" is medically defined as the response of our tissues to injury, infection or irritation. Our human tissue that is exposed to any injury, infection, or repeated irritation is now said to be inflamed. These inflamed tissues let us know that something is not normal and they quickly react with the classic signs of inflammation, including pain, swelling, redness, heat, and loss of function.
This is the body's way of telling us that whatever is causing this acute inflammation needs to be stopped, so the body can begin the healing process.
Therefore, acute inflammation is an essential part of the body's healing system. For example, if a person slips and falls and scrapes their elbow or cuts their skin, inflammation sets in and the process of healing is begun. Of course, any injury or skin wound should be properly treated and the wound may need to be assessed by a medical professional to see if stitches may be needed.
JIM SURRELL, M.D.
If we did not have this inflammatory response to let us know that an injury occurred, even the smallest injury could become infected with bacteria and even a small injury could develop an infection that potentially could be life-threatening.
So, our body's healthy reaction is to develop acute inflammation, in response to injury, irritation, or exposure to infection. This process lets us know that something is not right and corrective measures need to taken.
If action is not taken to remove the process causing the acute inflammation, the process will then progress to the potentially more dangerous chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation may be medically defined as the ongoing reaction of the body when our tissues are unable to heal themselves because of continuing exposure to the inflammatory effects of the injuring agent.
So, what can we do to avoid exposing ourselves to the process of chronic inflammation? Inflammation is often caused by a person continuing to engage in an activity or persist in a habit that causes chronic inflammation. It is also very important to be aware that chronic inflammation can lead to very serious health problems, including cancer.
Perhaps the most classic example of self-induced chronic inflammation is the chronic major lung inflammation caused by smoking. We know that smoking causes chronic inflammation not only in the lungs, but also in the oral cavity and in the airway where cancer may develop from the chronic inflammation from smoking.
Other forms of chronic inflammation may not be cancer producing, but they can cause very serious and potential disabling painful symptoms.Various forms of arthritis also represent chronic inflammation. Fortunately, there are effective medications that can provide substantial pain relief by reducing the inflammation. They are appropriately referred to as "anti-inflammatory" medications, because they do, in effect, block the inflammatory process.
In summary, the process of acute inflammation tells the body to start the healing process to help the body repair its damaged tissue. Further, inflammation helps our body to defend itself against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders.
However, with chronic inflammation, the body is repeatedly exposed to inflammation and if it cannot complete the repair process, ongoing damage to the affected body parts will be the result.
If you have a chronic inflammation from an ongoing inflammatory process, consult with your health care provider, identify the cause of the inflammation, and get treatment to resolve this potentially serious medical condition.
Editor's note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of "SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet," has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at email@example.com.