Vasculitis is a general term referring to a
group of diseases that cause inflammation of your blood vessels. It may lead to
changes in the blood vessel walls, including thickening, weakening, narrowing
or scarring. Vasculitis might affect just one organ or several. The condition
can be short term or long lasting.
There are many types of vasculitis, and
most of them are rare. It can affect anyone, though some types are more common
among certain groups. Some of the forms may be quite mild and may improve
without treatment. Others may be life-threatening, affecting critical organs.
Other names for vasculitis are angiitis and arteritis.
Diseases belonging to vasculitis include:
- Behcet’s disease
- Buerger’s disease
- Churg-Strauss syndrome
- Giant cell arteritis
- Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
- Henoch-Schonlein purpura
- Kawasaki disease
- Takayasu’s arteritis
We don’t know what causes most types of
vasculitis. Experts indicate that it is an autoimmune disease, which means the
body’s immune system attacks its own blood vessels. Other possible causes of vasculitis
- Genetic factors
- Reactions to certain medicines
- Blood cancers
- Chronic infections, such as hepatitis C or hepatitis B virus
- Other rheumatic diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and
Vasculitis has a wide range of signs and
symptoms as a result of its different types. Moreover, the symptoms may vary
greatly from person to person, and depend upon the organs affected and the
severity. Altogether, signs and symptoms associated with the disease include:
- Fatigue and malaise
- Weakness and numbness in a hand or foot
- Weight loss
- skin rashes, skin discoloration, and ulcers
- Muscle pain
- Shortness of breath
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
Likely, your doctor will start the
diagnosis by taking your medical history and carrying out a physical exam. Then,
he or she will do some tests to help confirm the diagnosis. The most common
This test is done by removing a small piece
of tissue of the affected area for inspection under a microscope
- Blood tests.
Blood tests, like Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR or sed rate) or C-Reactive Protein (CRP) can help look for signs of inflammation. A complete blood chell count can tell whether you have enough red blood cells. Blood tests that look for certain antibodies, such as the anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies test, can also help diagnose vasculitis.
This is a type of X-ray to look for
abnormalities of blood vessels.
- Other imaging tests.
Noninvasive imaging techniques can help
determine what blood vessels and organs are affected. These tests include
X-rays, ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).
Treatment options for vasculitis are targeted
towards controlling the inflammation, preventing relapse and resolving any
underlying disease that triggered your vasculitis. In most cases, medications are enough to help patients
with the condition lead a normal life. These medications include:
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to treat most forms of vasculitis
- Immune-suppressing drugs, like cyclophosphamide, methotrexate or azathioprine, to avoid the side effects of long-term use of corticosteroids
- Biologics, including rituximab (Rituxan) or tocilizumab (Actemra), to treat certain forms of vasculitis
Sometimes, damage from severe vasculitis requires surgery. This may involve vascular bypass grafting, a surgery to redirect blood flow around a blockage in a blood vessel. Depending on the affected area, other possible operations are sinus surgery or a kidney transplant.