Difference between Infection and Inflammation

Updated on June 28, 2017

We keep reading about superfoods that help reduce inflammation and help prevent the body from getting various types of infections. But do we simply swallow this information or do we check it out first? And while we’re at it, why not take a look at what infection and inflammation mean?

Definitions

Infection

An infection occurs when the organism is invaded with viruses, bacteria, or fungi from the outside environment. This does not refer to bacteria that normally live inside the body, like the ones that help with digestion. These infectious agents are seen as parasites and their presence usually causes a reaction inside the body.

The host’s body is naturally wired to fight infection with the help of its own immune system. However, depending on the type of parasite causing the infection, the toxins it produces, and the speed at which it multiplies, extra help may be given in the form of medication. Diagnosis of the infection is important because only by establishing the exact cause of the infection can doctors prescribe the proper and effective medication.

Infections and infectious diseases have been at the root of all world plagues, especially since these parasites do not need much to spread from one host to another.

Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful stimuli that can cause injuries. This includes parasites, irritants, and damaged cells. The process is led by the white blood cells and it depends on the substances they produce. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.

With acute inflammation, white blood cells migrate toward the irritating agent to destroy it and remove all tissue debris. This removal process is followed by an attempt by the damaged tissue to return to normal, to repair it by replacing it with fibrous scar tissue. If the irritating agent has not been properly removed, suppuration and the formation of puss will follow. In the case of chronic inflammation, however, all these processes will take place at once. This is characteristic of medical conditions such as tuberculosis and bowel irritation, for example.

This is a good chance to explain what an auto-immune disease is. While a healthy body uses inflammation to fight off infection, the immune systems of people with auto-immune diseases can cause inflammation without having an infectious cause to fight against. This is the type of inflammation that is a health concern as it can damage the arteries, cause cancer, and produce much physical discomfort.

Infection vs Inflammation

So what is the difference between infection and inflammation?

Inflammation is caused by infection and it is a response of the immune system to the parasites or irritants attacking the body. People get infected from contagious patients, but inflammation is something that occurs inside the body.

Infection means an organism is invaded by viruses, bacteria, or fungi, whereas inflammation means a “dispatch” of white cells to remove the irritants in the area. In order to fight off infection, the body’s immune system starts the inflammation process and medication can be used to speed up the process or aid the body if the parasites are too strong and they multiply at an alarming speed. Inflammation by itself, as an improper response of the immune system, can be fought by a change in lifestyle like adopting a balanced diet, reducing stress, and relaxing and getting more rest.

Comparison Chart

InfectionInflammation
Has exterior causesIs an interior reaction
Means that the body was invaded by harmful parasites that are multiplyingMeans that the body has started to react to the presence of parasites and is removing them
Causes inflammationIs caused by infection, among other things
Is fought off through the body’s inflammatory response and medicationWhen it is acute, it represents the body’s attempt to heal; when it is chronic, it has no real cause to react and it can be fought off through a healthier lifestyle