What is Acute Inflammation?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Edema may cause acute inflammation.
Edema may cause acute inflammation.

Acute inflammation, also known as short-term inflammation, refers to the swelling and skin redness that immediately affects injured tissue. Following an injury, edema, increased blood flow and an increase in other bodily fluids in the area are what prompt swelling. Acute inflammation may also be accompanied by feverish skin and pain, but both are usually temporary conditions. Acute inflammation differs from chronic inflammation, which lasts for a longer period and may repeatedly occur over time.

Ice packs may be helpful in reducing acute inflammation.
Ice packs may be helpful in reducing acute inflammation.

Most people have experienced acute types of inflammation immediately following a minor injury. A few of the many causes of short-term inflammation may include allergic skin reactions, surgical procedures, insect bites, and even scrapes and scratches that don’t break the skin’s surface. This type of temporary inflammation is actually the body’s natural defense against injury as it tries to protect an injured site by sending increased blood flow to the area, as well as protecting it with an increase in other protein-filled fluids.

Scrapes and scratches can cause short-term inflammation.
Scrapes and scratches can cause short-term inflammation.

Acute inflammation is characterized by three basic reactions that take place within minutes or up to two hours after an initial injury occurs. The first reaction is increased blood flow followed by a second reaction that occurs in the circulatory system’s smallest vessels. During this reaction, white blood cells and blood proteins depart from their normal course of circulation. This leads to a third reaction, which involves a migration of white blood cells that build up at the site of an injury in an attempt to ward off whatever it is that has caused damage to the injured tissue.

Acute inflammation, feverish skin and pain often occur after a fall.
Acute inflammation, feverish skin and pain often occur after a fall.

Acute inflammation is a temporary condition. Once the white blood cells deem that the threat has passed, the short-term inflammation will begin to subside. This process may also be expedited by applying ice to the swollen area. If acute inflammation is affecting a limb, the limb can be elevated in an attempt to reverse the fluids that have begun to accumulate. Compression may also help reduce the pain that accompanies injured tissue.

An insect bite may cause acute skin inflammation.
An insect bite may cause acute skin inflammation.

Although acute inflammation can be very painful, it is not life-threatening and most people recover from its effects without further complication. It usually only last a few hours or perhaps even a few days, but, depending on the injury, an acute bout of inflammation can last for several weeks. If infection occurs during an acute inflammation stage, this may complicate and considerably delay recovery.

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    • Edema may cause acute inflammation.
      Edema may cause acute inflammation.
    • Ice packs may be helpful in reducing acute inflammation.
      Ice packs may be helpful in reducing acute inflammation.
    • Scrapes and scratches can cause short-term inflammation.
      Scrapes and scratches can cause short-term inflammation.
    • Acute inflammation, feverish skin and pain often occur after a fall.
      Acute inflammation, feverish skin and pain often occur after a fall.
    • An insect bite may cause acute skin inflammation.
      An insect bite may cause acute skin inflammation.
    • Compression garments may help reduce swelling caused by inflammation in the legs.
      Compression garments may help reduce swelling caused by inflammation in the legs.