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Does the body have specific mechanisms for healing burns, or is it general purpose stuff?

Does the body have specific mechanisms for healing burns, or is it general purpose stuff?



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I burned my thumb lighting sparklers (fireworks) a few nights ago. I've been pleased with how it's healing, and have been especially impressed because it's not a scenario that really could have come up in our evolutionary history. Then I started thinking that fires are not that common in nature. This prompts the question: do our bodies heal from burns using burn-specific techniques, or do they just follow general “procedures” for repairing damaged skin?


How Pain Works

Once the pain information is in the brain, we're not quite sure how it gets processed. Obviously, some signals go to the motor cortex, then down through the spinal cord and to the motor nerves. These impulses would cause muscle contractions to move your hand out of the way of whatever is causing the pain.

However, several observations lead scientists to think that the brain can influence pain perception.

  • The pain from the cut on your hand eventually subsides or reduces to a lower intensity.
  • If you consciously distract yourself, you don't think about the pain and it bothers you less.
  • People given placebos for pain control often report that the pain ceases or diminishes.

This indicates that pain-influencing neural pathways must exist from the brain downward.

These descending pathways originate in the somatosensory cortex (which relays to the thalamus) and the hypothalamus. Thalamic neurons descend to the midbrain. There, they synapse on ascending pathways in the medulla and spinal cord and inhibit ascending nerve signals. This produces pain relief (analgesia). Some of this relief comes from the stimulation of natural pain-relieving opiate neurotransmitters called endorphins, dynorphins and enkephalins.

Pain signals can set off autonomic nervous system pathways as they pass through the medulla, causing increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing and sweating. The extent of these reactions depends upon the intensity of pain, and they can be depressed by brain centers in the cortex through various descending pathways.

As the ascending pain pathways travel through the spinal cord and medulla, they can also be set off by neuropathic pain -- damage to peripheral nerves, spinal cord or the brain itself. However, the extent of the damage may limit the reaction of the brain's descending pathways.

The influences of the descending pathways might also be responsible for psychogenic pain (pain perception with no obvious physical cause).

Thoughts, emotions and "circuitry" can affect both ascending and descending pain pathways. So, several factors, physiological and psychological, can influence pain perception:

  • Age -- Brain circuitry generally degenerates with age, so older people have lower pain thresholds and have more problems dealing with pain.
  • Gender -- Research shows that women have a higher sensitivity to pain than men do. This could be because of sex-linked genetic traits and hormonal changes that might alter the pain perception system. Psychosocial factors could be at work, too -- men are expected not to show or report their pain.
  • Fatigue -- We often experience more pain when our body is stressed from lack of sleep.
  • Memory -- How we have experienced pain in the past can influence neural responses (memory comes from the limbic system).

Physicians and neuroscientists generally classify pain in the following ways:


Understanding the Healing Stages of Wounds

There are many types of wounds that require different wound care products for proper recovery from an ulcer or laceration, but most go through similar healing stages. The duration of each healing stage may vary according to factors such as tissue health, management methods and efficiency of the body’s immune system, but the medical community agrees that there are three main phases. Learn more about these healing stages to be better acquainted with the progress of your wound healing plan.

Inflammation

The first phase of healing is inflammation, the body’s natural response to trauma. After the wound has been inflicted, homeostasis begins – the blood vessels constrict and seal themselves off as the platelets create substances that form a clot and halt bleeding. Once homeostasis is achieved the blood vessels dilate, letting nutrients, white blood cells, antibodies, enzymes and other beneficial elements into the affected area to promote good wound healing and stave off infection. This is when someone would begin to experience the physical effects of inflammation – swelling, pain, heat and redness, according to the Australian Wound Management Association.

Proliferation

In the second wound healing stage, proliferation, the wound begins to be rebuilt with new, healthy granulation tissue. For the granulation tissue to be formed, the blood vessels must receive a sufficient supply of nutrients and oxygen. This new tissue is made up of a mixture of extracellular matrix and collagen, which allows for the development of a new network of blood vessels to replace the damaged ones (a process called angiogenesis), according to the AWMA. The color of the granulation tissue is an indicator of the health of the wound. For example, a reddish or pinkish color generally means that it is healthy, while a darker tissue is often an indicator of infection or inadequate delivery of blood to the wound bed.

In addition to developing granulation tissues, the body transforms damaged mesenchymal cells into fibroblasts, which serve as bridges that help cells move around the affected area. If your wound is healthy, these fibroblasts begin to appear within three days of the wound and will secrete liquids and collagen. This secretion helps to strengthen the wound site. During proliferation, the wound continues to grow stronger as the fibroblasts continually reorganize aiding in the development of new tissue and accelerate the healing process.

Maturation

Maturation, also known as remodeling, is the last stage of the wound healing process. It occurs after the wound has closed up and can take as long as two years. During this phase, the dermal tissues are overhauled to enhance their tensile strength and non-functional fibroblasts are replaced by functional ones. Cellular activity declines with time and the number of blood vessels in the affected area decreases and recede.

While it may appear that the wound healing process is finished when maturation begins, it’s important to keep up the treatment plan. If the wound is neglected, there’s risk of it breaking down dramatically as it is not at its optimal strength. Even after maturation, wound areas tend to remain up to 20 percent weaker than they initially were.

Please note: blog posts are rarely updated after the original post. Because the medical industry is ever changing please make certain to reference the current product list as well as up-to-date industry information when considering product selection or treatment. Always consult a physician to discuss specific concerns or questions related to your health.


The 6 Steps of the Wound Healing Process

As your body engages in wound healing, a wonderful process occurs throughout each of the systems that comprise your body. According to a study published in the World Journal of Surgery, there are six wound healing stages, each of which rely on one another in order to completely close a wound. Knowing what each step involves is crucial in developing a comprehensive healing plan.

  1. Rapid hemostasis
    This refers to the mechanism that stops the actual bleeding. Most of the time, your body will accomplish this through a process called vasoconstriction, in which your blood vessels are closed tight. It’s similar to how you might turn a level as to stop a leaky faucet.
  2. Inflammation
    Inflammation is your body’s way of alerting you of an injury. Beyond that, it helps dictate where the next barrage of healthy cells should be headed. As such, inflammation is vital in the wound care process, but if it goes on for too long, it can actually prevent regeneration.
  3. Proliferation and migration
    When inflammation occurs, the body releases several kinds of cells, including those that are responsible for migration and proliferation. The former function actually refers to the movement of the cells, a carefully coordinated process that involves cells moving in a specific order. Meanwhile, proliferation is similar to hemostatis, as cells work to further constrict your blood vessels.
  4. Angiogenesis
    Once the bleeding is under control, the body then begins the process of rebuilding tissue. Angiogenesis, as it’s called, involves the formation of new blood vessels. This process occurs when your body’s cells begin to replace the veins and arteries that were damaged, either creating new sections or adding onto existing portions. It’s a decidedly complex endeavor, with many chemicals activating to facilitate these all-new veins.
  5. Reepithelialization
    Once your body has begun to regrow veins, it’s time to begin regrowing damaged skin. Your epidermis is comprised of cells called keratinocytes, and during the reepithelialization process, your body has to begin forging these chemical components. The process involves the creation of several layers, each working in tandem to offer protection and prevent fluid loss.
  6. Synthesis
    Though it’s seen as the last step, synthesis often happens almost simultaneously. In this process, certain proteins form blood clots, which helps further prevent bleeding as new skin and veins are formed. There are a number of proteins at play, and certain people lack those necessary proteins to form blood clots.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients.

Please note: blog posts are rarely updated after the original post. Because the medical industry is ever changing please make certain to reference the current product list as well as up-to-date industry information when considering product selection or treatment. Always consult a physician to discuss specific concerns or questions related to your health.


The 4-Stage Process Of Wound Healing: Making Skin Stronger Than Before

What’s the largest organ in your body? As a kid that might have gotten you it’s your skin, which serves as a layer of protection between your inner tissues and the outside world.

Because of its protective function, your skin must have an action plan for healing itself when you get hurt, no matter if it's scratched, bruised, or wounded. The body’s self-healing properties are fascinatingly harmonious and rather beautiful, as the video below depicts. Various cells and mechanisms work together as though forming a puzzle, rebuilding your layers of skin.

When the top layer — the epidermis — is broken by a light scratch, not much occurs. You might see some dead skin cells flake off. But when something cuts into the deeper, next layer — called the dermis — you’ll see blood, and your body triggers a four-stage process of healing itself. The skin has to respond to two major threats at first: the loss of blood, and the lack of a physical barrier (the epidermis) between your innards and the outer world. An open cut is an open doorway to bacteria and other pathogens, far more vulnerable to infection, so the body must act quickly to regenerate the epidermis.

First, red blood cells form a blood clot, which helps stop the bleeding and creates a temporary barrier that prevents pathogens from getting into the open wound. A few hours later, your skin might turn red and look swollen. This is the inflammation phase, when the body sends white blood cells to capture and fight off any rogue bacteria that happened to get through. Next, fibroblast cells enter the wound, dropping off collagen, which forms connective skin tissue to replace what was there before. The dermis and epidermis, then connect and contract to close the wound. After this full process, the skin is likely to be much stronger than it was before the wound. To see the entire process, watch the video below.


Prevention

How can I prevent a burn?

Burns have many accidental causes. You can take these steps to reduce the risk of burns:

  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Set your home’s hot water heater below 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Always test the water in a shower or bath before getting in or bathing a child.
  • Lock up chemicals, lighters and matches.
  • Use the stove’s back burners as much as possible when cooking, turn handles of pots and pans where they won’t be bumped and don’t leave the stove unattended.
  • Don’t hold a child when you’re near hot objects, such as the stove.
  • Set safeguards around a fireplace and never leave a child unattended.
  • Install and regularly test smoke detectors in your home.
  • Stock your home with fire extinguishers and know how to use them.
  • Cover electrical outlets.

What happens to the digested food?

The small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients in your food, and your circulatory system passes them on to other parts of your body to store or use. Special cells help absorbed nutrients cross the intestinal lining into your bloodstream. Your blood carries simple sugars, amino acids, glycerol, and some vitamins and salts to the liver. Your liver stores, processes, and delivers nutrients to the rest of your body when needed.

The lymph system, a network of vessels that carry white blood cells and a fluid called lymph throughout your body to fight infection, absorbs fatty acids and vitamins.

Your body uses sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and glycerol to build substances you need for energy, growth, and cell repair.


Follow a Ketogenic Diet

Most people in society are burning sugar in the form of glucose as their primary energy source. When we are in this sugar burning mode, we end up with large blood sugar fluctuations and higher insulin levels. This physiological process inhibits autophagy.

A ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carb and moderate protein nutrition plan. This pattern of eating lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and causes the body to adapt to burning dietary fat and its own body fat for fuel.

Ketones are byproducts of fatty acids that are more easily used to produce cellular energy and they can cross through the blood brain barrier to fuel the brain. Ketones are a preferred fuel for the body because they produce significantly more energy per molecule than glucose and they produce a lot less metabolic waste. They are a clean fuel source as opposed to the dirty fuel produced by burning sugar.

A ketogenic diet mimics fasting and you get some of the same benefits of fasting while still eating food. By blunting insulin, the ketogenic diet primes autophagy pathways and when we apply intermittent fasting, we get into a state of autophagy much quicker than if we were not keto adapted. For more info on ketosis and the ketogenic diet, read this article.


Outlook

When cared for properly, most wounds heal well, leaving only a small scar or none at all. With larger wounds, you are more likely to have a scar.

Certain factors can prevent wounds from healing or slow the process, such as:

  • Infection can make a wound larger and take longer to heal.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are likely to have wounds that won't heal, which are also called long-term (chronic) wounds.
  • Poor blood flow due to clogged arteries (arteriosclerosis) or conditions such as varicose veins.
  • Obesity increases the risk of infection after surgery. Being overweight can also put tension on stitches, which can make them break open.
  • Age. In general, older adults heal more slowly than younger people.
  • Heavy alcohol use can slow healing and increase the risk for infection and complications after surgery.
  • Stress may cause you to not get enough sleep, eat poorly, and smoke or drink more, which can interfere with healing.
  • Medicines such as corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and some chemotherapy drugs can slow healing.
  • Smoking can delay healing after surgery. It also increases the risk for complications such as infection and wounds breaking open.

Wounds that are slow to heal may need extra care from your provider.


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How does worry and stress affect your health?

Worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. Including: