Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.
The Flip Side of the Immune System
Our body has many ways it protects itself. Your skin is a big barrier to the dangers of the outside world. Stomach acid can kill most pathogens. Your immune system is there to fight off everything from bacteria to viruses. This lesson explores the flip side of the latter point. That is to say, your immune system, via the inflammatory process, may end up hurting you in the long run.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Under normal circumstances, if something harmful causes inflammation in your body, that inflammation will dissipate relatively quickly after the stimulus for its initiation disappears. That's exactly how it's supposed to occur. But sometimes, chronic inflammation occurs. Chronic refers to diseases that continue for a long time or recur over and over again.
This chronic inflammation can be very harmful to your body. In fact, I know you're not surprised by it. Imagine dropping a 10-pound weight on your toe over and over again or wrapping a rubber band over your finger and never taking it off. Those types of continuous events would harm your body quite a bit. In the same manner, chronic inflammation harms your body in a wide variety of ways.
How Does Chronic Inflammation Hurt Me?
Inflammation refers to the sensory consequences of inflammatory mediator release. These mediators include protein, carbohydrate, and lipid compounds and derivatives, which initiate, promote, prolong, or stop the process of inflammation. These mediators can either directly damage your body or indirectly damage your body by recruiting other mediators or cells to the local site of injury.
For instance, white blood cells that are recruited by inflammatory mediators to a site of injury may release degradative enzymes that end up destroying not only foreign bacteria but your own body's cells as well. Therefore, inflammation can physically or chemically hurt you. Furthermore, inflammatory mediators also cause you pain via their stimulation of nerve cells. Anyone with chronic back pain knows exactly what I'm talking about.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
The causes for chronic inflammation are as many as the biochemical mediators that initiate and prolong this process. Here's one particular illustration of this. Usually, when a virus enters your body, it will trigger the inflammatory response. This inflammatory response seeks to destroy the virus. However, in select cases, some viruses can enter inside of your body's cells and essentially hide there, thumbing their noses at your immune system, right under the watchful eyes of the inflammatory mediators and cells. This happens for several different reasons, but the end result is a process of chronic inflammation that seeks to destroy the virus that's hiding inside the cell.
While the inflammation is triggered for a good reason - to destroy the virus - it ends up hurting the body far more than the virus itself. Since the virus sitting inside the cell can't be killed very well, the inflammation continues indefinitely, giving rise to everything from pain to organ failure to cancer to death. The reason cancer can be a result of chronic inflammation is because inflammation relies heavily on something known as reactive oxygen species, which may be secreted by inflammatory cells such as neutrophils. These reactive oxygen species are molecules and free radicals derived from oxygen that are involved in the process of inflammation.
The reactive oxygen species may be really good for things like killing bacteria, but they can also be terrible in the long run because they can cause damage to a cell's DNA. If a cell's DNA is damaged, and very specific genes are damaged enough, then the cell may become a cancer cell, divide, and then spread around the body, killing the person.
Another way inflammation can become chronic and hurt a person is in the case of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disease are conditions where the body's own immune system causes it to attack itself. Sometimes there is a genetic cause for this, but other times, it may be that the body's immune system is tricked into thinking that its own cells are the bad guys. So, as soon as the immune system is fooled, it launches a terrible inflammatory attack on all sorts of tissues and organs throughout the body, many times resulting in incapacitation and eventual death of the person.
Now you hopefully have a better appreciation for how inflammation can hurt you instead of help you when it comes down to chronic inflammation. Chronic refers to diseases that continue for a long time or recur over and over.
Chronic inflammation occurs thanks to prolonged inflammatory mediator release. These mediators include protein, carbohydrate, and lipid compounds and derivatives that initiate, promote, prolong, or stop the process of inflammation.
Some of these mediators play a role in the release of reactive oxygen species, which may be secreted by inflammatory cells such as neutrophils. These reactive oxygen species are molecules and free radicals derived from oxygen that are involved in the process of inflammation.
Upon completing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe what chronic inflammation is and why it occurs
- Explain what the inflammatory mediator release is
- Summarize the role of reactive oxygen species in the inflammatory process
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack