Inflammation and Chronic Disease

If you’ve ever twisted your ankle, sliced your finger, or been stung by a bee, you have experienced inflammation. The pain, stiffness, redness, swelling, and heat that result from an injury or infection is your body’s response to the inflammatory process. This inflammation, while essential to helping the body fight off hostile microbes and repair damaged tissue, can actually be quite harmful if left untreated.

Eight Problems with Inflammation

When inflammation becomes prolonged, it can result in chronic or long-term inflammation. With chronic inflammation, your body is on high alert at all the time. This prolonged state of emergency often lasts beyond the actual injury; sometimes for months or even years and can cause significant damage to your heart, brain, skin and other organs.

The Link to Heart Disease

When inflammatory cells hang around too long in blood vessels, they promote the buildup of dangerous plaque. The body sees this plaque as foreign and sends more of its first responders. As the plaque continues to build, the arteries can thicken, making a heart attack or stroke much more likely.

It’s Like a Kick to Your Guts

An inflammatory response can can attack the digestive tract itself, resulting in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can be especially detrimental to bone health, because it can prevent absorption of important bone-building nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.

It Can Be a Pain in Your Joints

When inflammation occurs in the joints, it's can cause serious damage. One joint-damaging condition is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). People with RA experience pain and stiffness in their inflamed joints. But because the immune reaction isn't limited to the joints, they're also at higher risk for problems with their eyes and other body parts.

It Can Be a Real Headache

Inflammation in the brain may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. For many years the brain was thought to be off-limits to inflammation because of the blood-brain barrier, but scientists have proved that immune cells can and do infiltrate the brain during times of distress.

It's Bad for Your Lungs

When inflammation occurs in the lungs, it can result in fluid accumulation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Infections, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis) are all characterized by inflammation in the lungs.

It Makes Weight Loss Difficult

Obesity is a major cause of inflammation in the body, and losing weight is one of the most effective ways to fight it. But that's sometimes easier said than done, because elevated levels of inflammation-related proteins can also make weight loss more difficult than it should be. For starters, chronic inflammation can influence hunger signals and slow down metabolism, so you eat more and burn fewer calories

It Can Damage Your Bones

Inflammation throughout the body can interfere with bone growth and even promote increased bone loss. Researchers suspect that inflammatory markers in the blood interrupt "remodeling"—an ongoing process in which old, damaged pieces of bone are replaced with new ones. Another inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, can also have implications because it limits people's physical activity and can keep them from performing weight-bearing, bone-strengthening exercises.

It Affects Your Skin

The effects of inflammation aren't just internal, they can also be reflected on your skin. Psoriasis, for example, is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the immune system causes skin cells to grow too quickly. Chronic inflammation has also been shown to contribute to faster cell aging in animal studies, and some experts believe it also plays a role (along with UV exposure and other environmental effects) in the formation of wrinkles and visible signs of aging.

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