If you’ve ever experienced a paper cut, you might have noticed that the surrounding skin turned warm and red. This is a natural response from your immune system, which sends a rush of blood to the area to deliver healing white blood cells. The same thing occurs when a sprained ankle swells or strep throat brings a fever. This process is known as inflammation.
Inflammation: Helpful or Harmful?
“Inflammation is a broad term for many different types of immune-related responses,” explains Dr. Jason Hou, gastroenterologist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Basically, our immune system uses inflammation as a tool when something isn’t right in your body. There are multiple types of inflammation, so your body deploys different types depending on your condition, such as the stomach flu, a cut, or an infection. This type of short-term inflammation helps you heal and can come with side effects such as redness, swelling, or heat.
While short-term inflammation can help you heal, the chronic type can be harmful to your well-being. Researchers have found connections between inflammation and many long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease. Your activity level, diet, and stress levels can all affect how much inflammation you experience.
Chronic Inflammation and Your Digestive Tract
Inflammation is responsible for the two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. These can have painful symptoms and increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer in the future. UC occurs in the large intestine and rectum, while Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of IBD include: