What Is Inflammation?

Many people suffer from inflammation, but may not know the cause of their discomfort. Inflammation can be a temporary reaction to an injury, or it can be chronic. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of inflammation and how you can treat your symptoms.

Inflammation is the result of the body using white blood cells to guard against infection. Usually, an inflammatory reaction is triggered by foreign organisms, such as viruses or bacteria. In some people, the immune system will trigger a response when there are no organisms to defend against. When the immune system reacts against the body, it is called an autoimmune disease. The body will respond as if it was experiencing an infection, but without the actual infection. Arthritis is an example of inflammation caused by an autoimmune disease.

Symptoms of Inflammation

Inflammation may not be externally visible, but many symptoms indicate an inflammatory reaction. These symptoms can indicate a more serious issue than an immune system response to a small injury, so you should consult with your doctor if you experience the following symptoms.

Symptoms of Inflammation:

  • Redness
  • Swollen joint(s), which may feel warm
  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of joint function
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle stiffness

What Causes Inflammation?

Inflammation is an immune system response to a threat. If you are injured, white blood cells flood the area to guard against infection. These cells produce chemicals to fight bacteria or viruses, and these chemicals also increase blood flow to the area. The increased blood flow can cause redness, swelling, or warmth in the wounded area.

Any soft tissue in the body can become inflamed. This includes muscles, the soft tissue of joints, and internal organs. When organs become inflamed, it may cause pain, difficulty breathing, high blood pressure, organ failure, or other issues.

How Is Inflammation Treated?

Depending on the cause, inflammation may be treated in a number of ways. Factors your doctor will consider include your age, medications, the cause of your inflammation, medical history, and the severity of your symptoms.

If your inflammation is due to an injury, your doctor will likely recommend that you elevate the injured area, apply cold compresses or ice to reduce swelling, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. They may also recommend immobilizing the affected joint or reducing your physical activity while you recover.

If your inflammation is caused by a disease, such as arthritis, your doctor will seek to treat the underlying cause, as well as reduce symptoms. You may be prescribed stronger medication, including corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or biologic drugs to treat the cause of your inflammation.

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare providers.