I’ve written a lot about inflammation in most of my posts. But I’ve just realised that I haven’t covered what inflammation is. Generally it’s a good thing, it’s one of the immune system’s shock troops, parachuting in to deal with foreign bodies swiftly while the body creates a more specific way to prevent illness.
There’s two stages to the human immune response, the first is called innate immunity and includes inflammation. The second stage is called adaptive immunity. This is the one that you get vaccinated for. Adaptive immunity creates high strength antibodies that deal with specific attacks on the body. The difficulty with this is that it takes some time.
It’s actually really amazing how the two stages work together. Your body needs to recognise the intruder, then check if it’s encountered it before. If it has then it needs to start making antibodies that’ll attack just that intruder, but hit it hard (using the blueprints that it created the last time the infection attacked). If it hasn’t then it has to create the blueprints to make the right antibodies to attack it.
This all takes some time, so that’s where inflammation comes in. Inflammation is like a general catch-all defence, the body sends a bunch of cells to the affected area and they start trying to push the intruder out, while also creating a barrier of blood cells and other bits to stop the infection from getting further into the body. This is why you get a bright red bump if you’re bitten by an insect for example.
The inflammatory response also tries to heat up the area (many of the bacteria and viruses that affect the body work in a very small temperature window, so this can help to kill them while also trying to stop them and push them out). So – the next time you have a bump, bite, or paper cut – that’s what’s happening when you get a big red angry lump!
Headaches are similar, when you get a headache try to focus on whether it’s a sharp, stabbing pain running across the head or if it feels like pressure building and a slow steady thumping. If it’s the first then opt for a paracetamol based remedy, if it’s the second go for an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofen. If it’s happening a lot, or really severe, go and see your doctor. And obviously, if you’re allergic to any medication then don’t take it!
So, as we’ve seen, inflammation is a good thing. And every time I think about how the body works I’m in awe. But, just like the rest of the body’s systems, sometimes things go wrong. And that’s why we get autoimmune diseases like AS.
As I said in my post about immuno-kryptonite, the immune system in someone with AS doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, once it’s triggered, it doesn’t switch off for a long time and instead it heads for the spine. Sometimes it genuinely believes (well, in as much as a purely reactionary cell can believe!) that parts of the spine are foreign bodies. So it tries to attack it.
And that’s where biologic drugs like Humira, Cimzia, Enbrel and the like come in. They suppress the inflammatory response so that it can’t attack the body. But they also can’t attack infections either, so you’re more susceptible to illness.
So, when I talk about inflammation in future (or if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to reread past posts) now you know what I’m talking about!