Often used interchangeably, “swelling” and “inflammation” are in fact two distinct terms. While inflammation is classified as a protective response from the immune system to injury, infection, or irritation; swelling is caused by the accumulation of fluid in tissues in a specific region, or throughout the body.

If left untreated, swelling can become increasingly painful and cause difficulty walking, stiffness, stretched skin (which can become itchy and uncomfortable), increased risk of infection in the swollen area, scarring between layers of tissue, decreased blood circulation, decreased elasticity of arteries, veins, joints, and muscles, and increased risk of skin ulcers.

WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?

Inflammation has a major impact on our health and quality of life. It is a local reactive change that involves the release of antibacterial agents from nearby cells that defend the host against infection. It also facilitates early tissue healing and repair. It “walls off” the infectious or injurious agent and serves as a defence mechanism the body can use to restore itself to a normal morphological form and function.

When a wound swells up, turns red, and hurts, it may be a sign of inflammation. It doesn’t only start when, for instance, a wound has already been infected by bacteria, is oozing pus, or healing poorly. It already starts when the body is trying to fight against the harmful irritant.

TYPES OF INFLAMMATION

  • Acute inflammation is the early response of a tissue to injury. Acute inflammation is nonspecific and may be evoked by any injury short of one that is immediately lethal. It may be regarded as the first line of defence against injury and is characterised by changes in the microcirculation exudation of fluid and emigration of leukocytes from blood vessels to the area of injury. It is typically of short duration, occurring before the immune response becomes established and is aimed primarily at removing the injurious agent.

  • Chronic inflammation may result from failure of the recovery phase of acute inflammation or may occur as a distinct process from the outset due to the nature of the irritant. It is of prolonged duration lasting for several months or years. The hallmarks of chronic inflammation are the infiltration of the primary inflammatory cells and plasma cells in the tissue site, producing inflammatory cytokines, growth factors, and enzymes, contributing to the progression of tissue damage.

When inflammation continues for prolonged periods of time, it can be thought of as the healing process in overdrive and harmful changes can occur to localised tissues as well as the entire body.

WHAT IS SWELLING?

Swelling can affect a small area or the entire body. The result of inflammation or a build-up of fluid, swelling can be caused by insect bites, illness, injury, infection, burn wounds, and arthritis. Internal swelling is often a side effect of medication or the result of a serious injury. In cases where the swelling is caused by an infection, more fluid from the blood vessels puts more infection-fighting white blood cells in the swollen area.

5 KIND OF SWELLING

The result of inflammation or a buildup of fluid, Nationwide Children’s Hospital differentiates between the following kinds of swelling: oedema describes swelling in the tissue outside of the joint. Effusion describes swelling that is inside a joint, such as a swollen ankle or knee. Hemarthrosis is a condition where there is blood and swelling within a joint.

This indicates either a ligament injury, such as an ACL tear or a fracture. Acute refers to swelling that occurs within 24 hours of injury. Chronic refers to swelling that occurs over a long period of time and can be difficult for an individual to detect but is very harmful if left untreated.

COMPLICATIONS

If left untreated, swelling can become increasingly painful and cause difficulty walking, stiffness, stretched skin (which can become itchy and uncomfortable), increased risk of infection in the swollen area, scarring between layers of tissue, decreased blood circulation, decreased elasticity of arteries, veins, joints, and muscles, and increased risk of skin ulcers.