Chronic inflammatory diseases

Did you know that inflammation is part of the body’s defence mechanism and plays a role in the healing process?

Short-term (acute) inflammation is essential for healing, but long-term (chronic) inflammation is a factor in various diseases.  Chronic inflammatory diseases (CIDs) cause your body to overreact and in some cases, attack itself.  Research shows that chronic inflammation is associated with autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in hands and feet.

RA is an autoimmune disease, where a person’s immune system attacks joint tissues and potentially other body parts or organs for unknown reasons.

As the disease progresses, symptoms can spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders.  As a result, RA causes pain, inflammation and eventually joint damage and malformation.

What is Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a group of intestinal disorders that cause prolonged inflammation of the digestive tract.  The two most common disorders are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

The digestive tract is responsible for breaking down food, extracting nutrients and removing any unusable material and waste products.  Inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract disrupts the normal process.

IBD can be very painful and in some cases, it may even be life-threatening.  The symptoms of IBD may vary according to the type, location and severity.  The exact cause of IBD is unknown.  However, genetics and problems with the immune system have been associated with IBD.

How is chronic inflammation treated?

Chronic inflammation affects specific areas of the body and treatment varies considerably depending on the area affected.

For years steroids to suppress the immune response played the lead role.  However, steroids come with common side effects such as weight gain and with potentially harmful side effects for example enlargement of the heart and liver cancer.

Today, with scientific advancement, patients living with chronic inflammation and inflammatory disease have newer options available for treatment with the development of more selective medicine that goes beyond broad immunosuppressive treatments.

For example, TNFα blockers are antibodies developed in a laboratory to target a specific protein TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor).  TNF plays an important role in the inflammation process.  Thus, by blocking TNF, TNF blockers help stop inflammation.