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What Is Inflammatory Demyelination?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2014
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Inflammation is the body's natural response to any condition, injury, or disease process that disrupts the body’s homeostasis, or its ability to remain stable. This reaction is marked by swelling, an increase in temperature, redness, and tenderness or pain in and around the area involved. The main objective of inflammation is to fight off an infection process and initiate the healing process to protect the body and aid it in returning to normal. Inflammatory demyelination is an inflammation process that affects myelin.

Myelin is a protective layer made up of a mixture of proteins and fatty material that surrounds and insulates nerves throughout the entire body, including the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. In addition to sheltering the nerves, this covering also boosts their ability to transmit chemical and electrical signals from the brain and spinal cord to the appropriate parts of the body, for swift and efficient responses to changes. Also referred to "myelin disorder" or "demyelinating disease," inflammatory demyelination affects the nerves capability of responding stimuli inside and outside of the body. When this occurs, the body part affected may react slowly to changes, and in severe cases, not at all. For example, if the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves on the foot are damaged, the ability to move the foot as it comes in contact with something hot or sharp may be altered resulting in a burning of the area or the sharp object piercing through the skin.

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Inflammatory demyelination can occur anywhere throughout the body. These changes to the myelin covering can occur from the result of an injury and cause a temporary change in sensation of the area lasting until the body heals. When inflammatory demyelination becomes chronic or longstanding, it is thought to be a response of the immune system, the biological processes of the body to fight off infections, going haywire and attacking normal nerves instead of the invading contaminant.

An example of this abnormal reaction — in which inflammatory demyelination occurs — is a condition called chronic inflammatory "demyelinating polyneuropathy," or “CIDP”. This disorder is marked by changes in sensation and possible numbness, tingling and loss of muscle strength in the area where the nerve is affected. If left untreated, CIDP can result in a change in surrounding nerves leading to progressive dysfunction and pain in other areas of the body.

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