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Inflammation and Inflammatory Diseases in the Elderly

Inflammation and Inflammatory Diseases in the ElderlyThere is one medical term that is often used by both health care professionals and the general public yet it is not often fully understood by most people. The elderly, with their age-related complaints and chronic diseases that tend to start in the later years, will have heard of inflammation and inflammatory diseases over and over again. Then there is the term ‘anti-inflammatories’ to describe the most widely used drugs that counteracts the inflammation. What exactly is inflammation and inflammatory diseases and what does in mean to the elderly?

What does inflammation mean?

Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. It is a way that the body signals that all is not well and initiates a response to try to limit the damage. When the body is injured or undergoing damage, it needs to initiate its emergency procedures all of which can be encompassed by the term inflammation.

Blood flow to the damaged area increases so that immune cells can quickly reach the site in large numbers. This is seen as redness. The blood vessels in the area also become more permeable thereby allowing the immune cells along with fluid to leave the blood and enter the tissue spaces. It is evident as swelling.

Increased blood flow and the intense activity at the site of the damage also increases heat at the site. This is why an inflamed area feels hot to touch. Inflammatory chemicals at the site irritate the nerves in the area to warn the brain that action needs to be taken. This is felt as the sensation of pain. However, these processes along with the initial damage hamper the normal abilities of the affected part of the body. This is seen as partial or complete loss of function.

What are inflammatory diseases?

Although inflammation is a protective mechanism, it is also the root of much pain and suffering and even holds back normal healing capabilities. It is essential when the body is under attack but should it persist for no reason then it can cause serious diseases. Sometimes the body does not “switch off” the inflammation process to then allow the body to heal after damage. This is simply termed as chronic inflammation.

At other times the immune systems turns on the body’s own tissues and causes inflammations at certain areas or throughout the body despite the absence of any threat. This is more correctly known as an autoimmune disease. There are many different ways in which the inflammation process can be ongoing. Collectively these conditions are known as inflammatory diseases.

It includes conditions like :

  • Dermatitis (skin)
  • Osteitis and arthritis (bone and joint)
  • Neuritis (nerves)
  • Phlebitis (vein)
  • Arteritis (arteries)
  • Bronchitis (lower airway)
  • Pneumonia (lungs)
  • Gastritis (stomach)
  • Proctitis (rectum)
  • Nephritis (kidney)
  • Cystitis (bladder)

These are just some of the conditions that are commonly seen in the elderly and it is further divided into many different types. Some of these inflammatory conditions can be acute meaning that is lasts for a short period of time but all too often in the elderly, it becomes a chronic ailment.

Dealing with Inflammation in the Senior Years

There is no single way to counteract the inflammatory process when it arises. Remember that this process is the body’s natural mechanism to protect itself and limit damage. Medication known as anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation for periods of time. The symptoms of inflammation therefore also eases. However, it is important to find the exact cause of ongoing inflammation and treat it. By attending to the root cause, inflammation will subside.

For the elderly, however, many inflammatory diseases will be life long and the only solution is constant use of anti-inflammatory drugs. It is important to understand the nature of the inflammatory disease and find ways to prevent or limit the irritation to the body that will lead to inflammation. Sometimes it can be as simple as resting between short periods of walking in conditions like arthritis, avoiding certain foods and drinks in bladder or quitting cigarettes for conditions like bronchitis.


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