What is Inflammation?

There are few topics in the world of healthcare that are more misunderstood than the topic of inflammation. In fact, much of the mainstream education about inflammation is much too ambiguous, oftentimes leaving one with many more questions than answers.

The irony of this is the fact that a HUGE percentage of the most common chronic health conditions that people are struggling with hold their roots in this concept of systemic inflammation.

So it’s time to clear the air.

At its conceptual core, inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, insult, or infection. When the body detects something abnormal within its system, an alert is sent to the immune system to respond. Chemical messengers called cytokines are secreted by surrounding cells, and a cascade of reactions is set in motion to protect the body and ward off or eliminate the intruder. White blood cells are deployed to the site of injury or infection to fight off bacteria, virus, and other foreign agents that could further cause harm.

It is actually quite incredible – much more complex and nuanced than a single word can describe, and the inflammatory response differs in accordance with what causes the initial insult.

To simply say that “inflammation is bad and must be eliminated in order to stay healthy” is a much too over-simplistic view of the topic. So let’s start from square one, and gain a foundational perspective on inflammation that we can build a healthy approach upon.

Is Inflammation Bad?

If your initial answer to this question is “yes,” it’s safe to say you are only thinking about part of the whole equation. Remember, there is a purpose to the inflammatory response, and understanding that purpose is your key to success in caring for your health.

Knowing that inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, insult, and infection, it means that the initiation of the inflammatory process is an essential part of our defense from those things. Without these inflammatory responses, wounds, sprains, infection, and the destruction that ensues would not be able to heal and repair.

When we think about inflammation in this light, it is actually a very, very good thing.

A quick example will help to illustrate this concept. Let’s assume you sit on a thumbtack. After a few choice words (that won’t be repeated here) you remove the tack and notice that the affected area starts to swell. The cells at the site of injury immediately emit chemical messengers into the bloodstream as a call for help. The body then quickly responds to this external threat by sending a greater amount of blood flow to the region. Your tissue is flooded with white blood cells and other healing agents, guarding against possible infection and eventually promoting tissue healing and regeneration.

(Inflammation is often a normal body reaction to help promote healing for an injury or infection.)

The Two Forms of Inflammation  

The scenario above is an example of acute, localized inflammation.

As mentioned, acute inflammation is normally not a serious concern. It can be perceived as “annoying,” but in reality, helps protect us for as long as the body needs to adequately recover. In this case, the body is being signaled to protect and prevent further harm to a localized area.

There are stimuli, though, that can cause a more pernicious form of inflammation. These stimuli are typically not acute, one-time offenders and cause a type of chronic, systemic inflammation (systemic – meaning whole-body). This can result in a whole host of problems when given a long enough runway. Chronic inflammation can lead to health concerns like: heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases of all kinds (just to name a few).

There is a plethora of scientific evidence that points to the notion that chronic, systemic inflammation is the basis for the majority of chronic illness in the developed world. Most of what causes this type of inflammation is lifestyle related. What we eat, the amount of physical, mental, emotional, and biochemical stress we are subject to (and how we deal with it), the environment we live and work in, the amount of essential vitamins and nutrients we are regularly ingesting, and the strength of our immune system all impact these chronic inflammatory pathways.

In this case, inflammation is set in motion by one or many of these issues, and is repeatedly stimulated due to the consistent, repetitive input of these negative lifestyle factors. This type of persistent bombardment creates “wear and tear” that over time leads to disease and dysfunction as mentioned above.

So if we circle back to our original question yet again, even in the case of chronic inflammation our answer remains consistent. Inflammation itself is not bad; it is the cause of that inflammation that is what needs to change in order to establish health once again.

Symptoms of Inflammation

Part of what makes for a successful recovery from inflammation is a thorough assessment of what is going on both above and beneath the surface. There are a number of things to look out for symptomatically that clue you in to what you may be dealing with.

Symptoms of Acute Inflammation

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Immobility
  • Swelling
  • Heat

Symptoms of Chronic (Systemic) Inflammation

  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Chronic Depression
  • Chest Pain
  • Gastrointestinal Issues
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint Pain

Once symptoms are noted, the next step is to look beneath the surface to uncover the specific physiological markers of inflammation that reveal the truth about the nature of your problem. In our office, we utilize an extensive panel of blood, hair, urine, and/or stool tests that give guidance to know how to restore health.

Healing with Hill Functional Wellness in Tempe, AZ

So, knowing what you now know about inflammation, it becomes more and more apparent that in order to successfully heal from a chronic inflammatory condition, we must start looking for the root cause of that inflammation.

This is precisely the approach we take with each patient that graces our office in need of help.

If you are concerned that you may be dealing with a chronic inflammatory issue, or just have questions regarding your current health status, we are here for you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment, and we’ll help you figure out what the best path to health independence is for you.