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What is pain and inflammation?

You may be wondering what anti-inflammatory medications are and how they work and why these medications are not advisable over the long-term

Hi, Dr. Yu here.

If you are like most people, you have no doubt been told by your doctor to

take an anti-inflammatory medication or some other type of pain killing

drug. What I would like to do is really tell you what exactly these medications are

and how they work in the body. I also would like to explain why these medications

are not as safe as many people think and why they are not a good idea for you to

take continuously or over a long time period.


Pain medications help to block the feeling of pain which is often associated with

inflammation, but it does not mean that the underlying problem or the

inflammation even is being properly treated. Often we take such medication in the

form of a capsule or tablet, but such medications can be given as injections or

injected into an IV in a hospital setting.


I really believe that the types of synthetic anti-inflammatory medications are not a

good idea, certainly not when it comes to helping you cope with chronic pain and

inflammation.  To begin our discussion, I will explain what these medications are,

what inflammation is, and how these medications work in your body. I will also

describe the disadvantages of these different types of drugs when it comes to

treating inflammation in the body.

What are anti-inflammatory medications?

To start with we should really consider what these medications are by looking at a

definition of inflammation first. Inflammation is a natural response of your

body’s immune system to some perceived threat. Much of your immune

system is made up white blood cells which are carried through your blood

vessels to sites of injury or infection. 


When you are hurt or there is some foreign entity present anywhere in your body,

your white blood cells rush to the scene and act like an army to attack the

invaders. Some of these white blood cells can even eat bacteria, or they can send

out an alarm signal to attract more cells, and they can secrete inflammatory

chemicals such as histamines, cytokines, and prostaglandins.

It is these chemicals that really revs up your inflammatory response to fight

invaders or help fix the problem, but as it turns out, you can have too much of a

good thing! 


What is chronic inflammation?


The acute inflammation reaction is actually important and helpful; the problem is

when there is an excessive over-reaction resulting in allergy or, in many cases,

when inflammation becomes a chronic problem and so your body is in a constant

state of alarm, with all the inflammatory chemicals and cells activated over a long

time period.


Histamines are just one chemical that can cause, in extreme cases, a dangerous

over-reaction, an allergy or anaphylaxis. In fact, many chemicals secreted during

inflammation cause your blood vessels to become leaky and various other

changes occur in which your tissues become swollen and red. 


Chronic inflammation is when the response lasts more than a few days and often

it makes you feel exhausted. Besides that, you may suffer from rashes and pain

in various parts of your body. Today, we will be discussing the pain and problems

caused by chronic inflammation and why the usual medications are not helpful.


What can cause chronic inflammation and what diseases is it linked to?


Chronic inflammation can be caused by an untreated injury, or it can be an

autoimmune reaction in which your body starts to attack itself. Another potential

cause of chronic inflammation is exposure to irritants in the environment over a

long time period.


This type of inflammation can be very painful, and when there is chronic

inflammation you can end up with painful, chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid

arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. Even type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and

asthma have been linked to chronic inflammation. 

Anti-inflammatory medications are marketed as a way to reduce the inflammatory

response in the body. Some of these are over-the-counter drugs, while others are

narcotics that require a prescription. 

The next article, I will be going over the type of pain medicine and how they affect your body. 


  1. Wynne, H. A., & Long, A. (1996). Patient awareness of the adverse effects of non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). British journal of clinical pharmacology, 42(2), 253-256.
  2. Krumholz, H. M., Ross, J. S., Presler, A. H., & Egilman, D. S. (2007). What have we learnt from Vioxx? Bmj, 334(7585), 120-123.
  3. Smith, A. P., Law, P. Y., & Loh, H. H. (1988). Role of opioid receptors in narcotic tolerance/dependence. In The opiate receptors (pp. 441-485). Humana Press, Totowa, NJ.
  4. Ricardo Buenaventura, M., Rajive Adlaka, M., & Nalini Sehgal, M. (2008). Opioid complications and side effects. Pain physician, 11, S105-S120.

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