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What is Systemic Inflammatory Response?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 17, 2024
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A systemic inflammatory response occurs when the entire body gives an inflammatory response to a threat. An inflammatory response is one of the body’s defense mechanism against harmful agents or damage. When a harmful agent enters the body or the body is damaged, blood is increased to the affected area. The excess blood brings nutrient-laden fluids and white blood cells that are necessary to heal the damage or defeat the invasion. If the systemic response continues over a period of time, the body can start harming itself.

It is important to note that an inflammatory response is not always damaging. The purpose of an inflammatory response is to contain and control an infection or heal damage. Many times the body does this with no harmful effects to itself. Initial inflammatory responses are called acute inflammation. A prolonged response is called chronic inflammation, and can lead to the destruction of cells.

Systemic inflammatory response is an indication that something has gone wrong with the body. For instance, it is one of the indicators of cancer. Doctors can detect and measure the severity of the response by looking at the amount of c-reactive proteins present in the body. These proteins are produced in the liver as a response to inflammation. Therefore, in general, the more c-reactive proteins that are present in the body, the more severe the inflammatory response.

There are several symptoms that are related to systemic inflammatory response. These symptoms vary depending on the severity of the reaction. In mild cases, the person will have general tiredness and lethargy. Moderate cases will additionally see a change in temperature. Severe cases will have symptoms of shock, such as reduced blood pressure, increased pulse rate, and a change in alertness.

When the body has a systemic response even though there is no infection, it is called Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS). Criteria for SIRS include a heart rate of over 90 beats per minute, a body temperature less than 98.6 °F (36 °C) or more than 100.4 °F (38 °C). Criteria also include a white blood cell count of less than 4000 cells per mm3 or more than 12000 cells per mm 3, or less than 10% immature nuetrophils, a type of white blood cell. When there is a source of infection, the response is called septic. In either case, if the response continues unchecked, it could lead to the failure of one or more organs.

There are several causes for a systemic inflammatory response. Some include, trauma, complications of surgery, and burns. Systemic inflammatory response may also be caused by drug overdose or by an infection. In each of these cases the body is simply trying to rid itself of harmful agents or trying to heal itself. If the initial, mild inflammatory response is not effective in healing the damage or defeating the invader, the body will increase its attack until it does.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Mar 23, 2014

Is anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) an inflammatory response? But it's not systemic right? I think rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic inflammatory response.

By ddljohn — On Mar 23, 2014

@stoneMason-- You know the theory behind inflammatory responses due to immune system diseases right?

Some people say that the immune system is not able to differentiate between normal cells and foreign cells. But there is another theory that says that the inflammatory response is due to a previous infection that was not properly removed by the body.

The idea is that when foreign cells such as viruses enter the body and are then fought by immune system cells, segments of the dead foreign cells remain and attach themselves to various tissues. At a later time, when immune system cells come across these segments, they attack it thinking it to be an active foreign intruder. In the process, the immune system cells attack and kill regular tissues which leads to inflammation.

I'm not sure which theory is correct but I think that they may all be possible.

By stoneMason — On Mar 22, 2014

As far as I know, auto-immune diseases, where the immune system is constantly activated or where the immune system attacks the body, also lead to systemic inflammatory response.

Hashimoto's is an example of an immune system disease that causes inflammation. I have Hashimoto's. In this disease, immune cells attack the thyroid causing the thyroid to dysfunction.

There is no cure of auto-immune disease but medications that slow down the immune system reaction or anti-inflammatory medications can be used. These help reduce symptoms but the underlying condition never goes away.

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