How inflammation attacks

Melissa Marino, Ph.D.
Published: December, 2004

Illustration by Matt Gore
Based on the work of Andreas Vesalius
Alzheimer’s disease

Amyloid plaques that form in brains of those with AD show significant amount of associated inflammation.


Chronic inflammation of the airways, due to allergens or irritants, makes the airways super-sensitive. Later exposure can trigger  swelling of the airways that obstructs airflow.


In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the islet cells of the pancreas. Recently, inflammatory processes have also been linked to type 2 diabetes.

Heart disease

Inflammation is likely involved in all aspects of heart disease—from early plaque formation within the arteries to thrombosis, the cause of a heart attack.

Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)

Chronic inflammation of the intestines may damage the bowel wall, allowing bacteria to “leak” through into the circulation. This may cause problems in other body areas (including joints, skin, eyes).

Multiple sclerosis

The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulating covering of nerve cells (myelin sheath), which slow or block nerve impulses.

Pre-term labor

Infections in the reproductive tract during pregnancy can trigger an inflammatory response that can initiate uterine contractions and premature labor.

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

In both types of arthritis, enzymes that break down cartilage are activated by inflammatory cytokines.