Inflammation is easy to recognize when a skin wound gets infected. A red, warm, swollen area signals the work of the immune system. But internal inflammatory processes can be much more complicated. Pulmonary fibrosis, for example, is considered an inflammatory condition but does not generally respond to anti-inflammatory treatment. Depression, on the other hand, is not usually considered an inflammatory condition but often does respond to anti-inflammatory treatment. Cardiovascular disease is somewhere in between.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a devastating illness that fills the lungs with scar tissue. It may be provoked by lung irritants such as asbestos, industrial chemicals, or tobacco smoke. In some cases, the original cause cannot be identified; then it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The only effective treatment is lung transplantation. So far no immune modulation treatment has been able to slow or stop the progression of the disease, which is uniformly fatal without a transplant. Researchers at Ohio State University have proposed five possible mechanisms for inflammation as a key part of the development of pulmonary fibrosis. They propose that research using new techniques of genetic and systems analysis may produce better therapies in the future. For the present, the best hope seems to be diligent prevention: stop smoking and stay away from all other potential irritants!
For cardiovascular health, you've probably heard the recommendations to take aspirin (usually baby aspirin). Among other things, aspirin is an anti-inflammatory. Dr. Silverstein of the Cleveland Clinic explains that oxidized LDL cholesterol interacts with the CD36 glycoprotein, which is part of the innate immune system, to form atherosclerotic plaques. Because of the oxidation step in this process, anti-oxidants are popular dietary approaches to heart health. Some of these, notably tumeric, are also anti-inflammatory.
The molecular cause of depression is highly controversial. A recent literature review shows that inflammation may be the fundamental problem for a significant number of patients.