The good, the bad and the downright ugly side to inflammation and chronic wounds
Updated: May 5, 2018
Our immune system is vital to our lives but its over activity can make ours lives miserable.
Inflammation, like we see after we stub a toe, as I did on the corner of the fridge yesterday, is mostly a good thing. It is part of my body’s normal response to injury and is involved in repairing the damage that the corner of my fridge inflicted on my poor little toe. Its way more effective than my hopping around, shouting and rubbing my foot, with the cats staring on at the mad woman in their kitchen.
My immune system helps not only in the repair of my damage toe, but these cells also play a critical role in defending my body against the onslaught of pathogens that we all meet each day. Because we cannot see them we have little concept of how many pathogens we meet on a daily basis. To be quite honest I am not sure I really want to know as I sit on the bus on the way to work or move about my daily life.
I’d never leave the house!
On the other side of the scale are diseases where these immune cells play a role in the pathology of diseases that impact our lives, either directly or indirectly, such as diabetes, arthritis or cancer. We tend hear a lot about these diseases and in some case the role inflammation plays in them, but I now want to tell you something that gets little media attention. It is something that many of us will have to look forward to in our later lives and that is chronic wounds.
These are wounds that are stuck in an excessive inflammatory stage and cannot close, in fact they can remain open for years and in some case can lead to amputations. Can you imagine, the impact on your life that a wound that is open, oozing fluid, often painful and smells does for your quality of life. These predominantly affect the lower limbs of the elderly and approximately 3.6% of over 65 year old Australians will end up with a chronic wound. Around 60-70% of people will go on to develop another wound. Yet another thing to look forward to in old age! These wounds while receiving little media attention cost the Australian Health Care system around $3 billion each year
So, what are these chronic wounds? I’d never heard of them until 10 years ago when researching into burn wounds and scar formation. I was asked by a friend to become part of a newly forming society, the Australasian Wound & Tissue Repair Society, something that I am now president of (how did that happen). It was through this society of learned and started working on these chronic wounds. Some of these wounds you may have heard of, such as pressure ulcers, but other like diabetic ulcers and venous ulcers are names less common but they have devastating effects on the lives of people with them. My work now also focuses on understanding this inflammation and reducing it in wounds, so these wounds can close and improve the lives of our elderly.
Most of us that know about these wounds and their impact on lives tell ourselves, someone will have a cure for these wounds before I reach that age. But, as I get older I am less sure of this. I see little funding going towards this and it is not a priority area for the government even though so many Australians are affected by this and the cost to our health care system is enormous. Nobody wants to spend their retirement socially isolated due to a wound rather than getting out there and enjoying the time we have left. Dr Rachael Murray
Head, Inflammation & Tissue Repair Group