Discover how the human body repairs itself. Learn how hyperbaric oxygen therapy and wound care boost the healing process when it’s impeded by other ailments.
How the Body Heals Itself (Header 1)
The human body has a complex system of physiological reactions to repair tissue injury. It involves the interaction of numerous cell types from the immune system and the vascular system. This process of how the body heals itself is astonishing but also barely noticeable when it’s working as it should. When it does fail to perform, treatments like medication and hyperbaric oxygen therapy are used to support wound healing.
To understand how medical procedures can improve healing, it’s also beneficial to know how the body does it by itself. It happens in four phases:
- Hemostasis Phase
Stopping the bleeding from an open wound is the very first step in the healing process. In a matter of seconds, blood vessels in the affected area constrict, while platelets rush in the same spot to start the clotting and prevent blood loss. A protein called fibrin then forms a cellular scaffolding to strengthen the clot’s hold or platelet aggregation.
- Inflammation Phase
Once most of the bleeding stops, the blood vessels start to open and bring nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to promote:
- Angiogenesis – Formation of new blood vessels from existing vessels
- Thrombosis – Clotting of the damaged blood vessels
- Reepithelialization – Formation of new dermal structures
The white blood cells, called macrophages, then form a clear fluid around the wound to protect the healing tissues from debris and bacteria. They also encourage tissue formation by producing chemicals that signal cellular migration. The cell repair and regeneration during the inflammation stage usually lasts for several days.
- Proliferative Phase
Tissue granulation starts shortly after hemostasis and continues to form new connective tissues and microscopic blood vessels. This step in the healing process fills the wound with oxygen-rich red blood cells from the base of the damaged tissue up to the exposed surface.
The reepithelialization or the regeneration of the skin’s outer layer follows, thanks to the macrophages. The natural collagen created by amino acids in the body then serves as a scaffold to support the cells that make up the body’s surface. These are called epithelial cells. This process sometimes produces scars that start as red and eventually turn dull. The growth and rebuilding phase can last several weeks.
- Maturation Phase
Once the collagen finishes laying down the new cellular structures, the wound starts to mature. And the continued development of connective tissues and cells will cause wound contractions that result in stretching, itching, and sometimes wrinkling of the affected area.
The body generally heals wounds in four to six weeks. However, internally, new and repaired tissues gain strength around the sixth week but only achieve their maximum tensile capacity by the eleventh to fourteenth week.
Wound Healing Issues
Wound healing happens all the time at a cellular level, even with the smallest cuts and scrapes. However, once underlying issues impede healing, it can cause serious health risks. The primary factors that interrupt wound healing are the following:
- Hypoxia – is characterized by inadequate oxygen supply at the tissue level. Low oxygen and nutrients affect cellular development and would take the wound at least twice as long to mend.
- Bacterial colonization – is caused by bacteria attaching themselves to the open epithelial layers of the skin. If bacteria start affecting the soft and damp tissues of a healing wound, it can turn into acute infections.
- Altered cellular response – includes atypical or non-functional chemical signals that cause cells not to function when needed. The altered cellular response makes it difficult for the body to communicate what needs to be done to start the healing process.
The factors above may result in chronic wounds, which do not heal within normal parameters. This, in turn, can develop into infections, blood poisoning, gangrene, and can even result in amputation. People who are elderly, diabetic, hypertensive, obese, have vascular disease, and other conditions are at high risk for this condition.
Enhanced Wound Care
When the body’s natural repair and regeneration systems fall short, specialized medical care becomes the answer. Recent researches and studies on wound healing identify aggravating factors at a molecular level. Learning more about the process at a microscopic level helps doctors target particular genes or cells for optimal natural wound healing.
Other wound care techniques that are accessible to the public are:
- Laser techniques – enhance cell regeneration and accelerate healing
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy – provide the blood with better oxygenation
The body is capable of repairing itself as long as one stays healthy. In case there are other existing health issues affecting wound healing, it’s best to contact a healthcare provider for recommendations.