Inflammation is not a disease or injury, but rather a natural protective response by the body to combat disease or injury and prevent potential damage. It can occur in all of the body’s tissues, from the muscles, to the joints, to the brain, to the cardiovascular system. Symptoms of inflammation may be either acute or chronic and can present in a variety of ways, depending on the body system. Inflammation may take the form of pain and redness, swelling, stiffness, or reduced or impaired function.
Acute inflammation is the response of the body to a sudden injury or short-term disease, such as a sprained ankle ligament or the flu. In the case of an injury, inflammation may be caused by a burn or cut of the skin, a bruise that damages the capillaries under the skin, a sprained or strained ligament or muscle, a dislocated joint, or a broken bone. Symptoms of inflammation as a response to acute injury typically include pain at the injury site, swelling around the damaged area, tenderness to the touch, stiffness of the tissue surrounding the injury, and difficulty moving the injured body part. These symptoms are the body’s way of ensuring proper healing by making the brain aware of the injury, sending extra nutrients to the area to help it to heal, and discouraging movement of the damaged body part.
Symptoms of inflammation as caused by an acute disease like a cold or infection are a similar attempt by the body to rid itself of the invading pathogens. A urinary tract infection, for instance, will create pain as well as the frequent and persistent urge to urinate as the body tries to flush out the infection. Likewise, the vomiting and diarrhea caused by a gastrointestinal bug may result in symptoms of inflammation in the digestive tract, like hoarseness or soreness, in an attempt by the body to heal the trauma to the lining of the tract vessels.
Chronic conditions come with their own symptoms of inflammation, many of which may lead to other conditions. Chronic inflammation of the synovial membrane lining the capsules of joints is known as rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which the immune system begins to think of the joint’s own cells as foreign invaders. Atherosclerosis is the medical name for the inflammatory condition of the arteries in which cholesterol begins to build up on the walls of these vessels and thereby narrow the space within. The inflammation itself is not the disease — the overconsumption of saturated fats in the diet tends to lead to this problem — but the body’s attempts to corral these fats in the bloodstream can produce its own problems, such as high blood pressure and increased risk of blockages.