Inflammation in the Body – Definition

The release of fluid (plasma) from the blood vessels into the tissues, facilitating the movement of key immune proteins and other molecules to the site of injury or infection. Inflammation is the mechanism of the immune response for containing and mitigating whatever damage has occurred. Prostaglandins, which mast cells release, are the primary instigators of the inflammatory response.

Inflammation occurs as a coupling of increased blood circulation to the area with increased capillary permeability (the amount of fluid the capillaries allow to escape into the spaces between cells). Though inflammation accompanies infection, it does not always indicate that an infective process is under way.

Inflammation Causes

Plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, contains numerous immune elements, including antibodies, cytokines, and complement factors. Swelling, which is the hallmark of inflammation, indicates that this mechanism is succeeding in getting the necessary immune elements to the site.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and certain of the cytokines are instrumental in the inflammation process. Inflammation typically causes swelling, pain, fever, and often redness of the SKIN at the site of the inflammation. When joints are inflamed, as in rheumatoid arthritis, the joint often feels stiff and has limited range of motion. Tendonitis and bursitis are also common presentations of inflammation.

Treatment for Inflammation

Treatment for inflammation is often nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (nsaids), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (dmards), or corticosteroid medications, depending on the cause. When appropriate, ice to the local area provides relief from pain and helps contract the blood vessels to slow the flow of blood.

The latter, in turn, reduces the amount of fluid that enters the tissues. Reducing use of the affected area facilitates healing and the body’s reabsorption of the excess interstitial fluid, though movement to keep the joints from stiffening is also important.

Physical therapy, tai chi, yoga, and massage therapy are among the methods that help maintain mobility and flexibility. Treatment also targets the circumstance causing the inflammation whenever possible, such as any underlying injury or condition.

For further discussion of inflammation within the context of the structures and functions of the immune system, please see the overview section “The Immune System and Allergies.”

See also ANALGESIC MEDICATIONS; ANTIBODY; ANTIGENCOMPLEMENT CASCADE; MAST CELL.

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