Vasculitis

  • A vasculitis is a group of uncommon diseases, which result in inflammation of the blood vessels.
  • Vasculitis symptoms and signs vary greatly and depend upon the organs affected and the severity of the disease.

These may include:

  • Rash
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Paralysis
  • Kidney failure
  • Researchers don’t know the cause of vasculitis; however, the condition’s standard features include inflammation of blood vessels and immune system abnormalities. Examples of diseases and conditions in which vasculitis occurs include:
    • Kawasaki disease
    • Behçet’s disease
    • Polyarteritis nodosa
    • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
    • Churg-Strauss syndrome
    • Temporal arteritis (giant cell arteritis)
    • Henoch-Schönlein purpura
  • Vasculitis also may occur with infections, drugs (cocaine, amphetamines), cancers, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Vasculitis is diagnosed with blood tests, biopsies, and angiograms.
  • Treatment for vasculitis is directed toward decreasing the blood vessels’ inflammation and improving the affected organs’ function.

Vasculitis is a general term for a group of uncommon diseases that feature inflammation of the blood vessels. The blood vessels of the body are referred to as the vascular system. The blood vessels are comprised of arteries that pass oxygen-rich blood to the body’s tissues and veins that return oxygen-depleted blood from the tissues to the lungs. Vasculitis is characterized by inflammation and damage to the walls of various blood vessels.

Each of the vasculitis diseases is defined by specific patterns of distribution of blood vessel involvement, particular organ involvement, and laboratory test abnormalities. As a group, these diseases are referred to as vasculitides.

The word vasculitis is derived from the Latin “vasculum,” vessel + “- itis,” inflammation. Another term for vasculitis is angiitis. When arteries are the inflamed blood vessels, the condition is also referred to as arthritis. When the veins are inflamed, it is referred to as venulitis.

Causes of Vasculitis

The actual cause of these vasculitis diseases is usually not known. However, immune system abnormality and inflammation of blood vessels are common features. Each form of vasculitis has its characteristic pattern of symptoms, much of which depends on what particular organs are affected.

Examples of vasculitis include:

  • Kawasaki disease,
  • Behçet’s disease,
  • Polyarteritis nodosa,
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis,
  • Cryoglobulinemia,
  • Takayasu’s arteritis,
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome,
  • Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis), and
  • Henoch-Schönlein purpura.

Vasculitis can also accompany:

  • Infections (such as hepatitis B),
  • Exposure to chemicals (such as amphetamines and cocaine),
  • Medications,
  • Cancers (such as lymphomas and multiple myeloma), and
  • Rheumatic diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus).

Vasculitis Symptoms

Numbness of the fingers typically results from conditions that affect the nerves and or blood vessels that supply the hand. Numbness of the fingers is often associated with tingling.

Vasculitis symptoms vary significantly from person to person and depend upon the organs affected and the severity.

  • Generally, vasculitis causes fatigue and malaise.
  • Sometimes vasculitis can lead to weakness and weight loss.
  • Vasculitis affecting the skin can cause rashes, skin discoloration, and ulcers.
  • Vasculitis affecting the muscles can cause muscle pain.
  • Vasculitis affecting the lungs can cause shortness of breath and cough.
  • Vasculitis affecting the heart can cause congestive heart failure.
  • Vasculitis affecting the brain can cause headaches, confusion, seizures, stroke, paralysis, numbness, and lightheadedness.
  • Vasculitis affecting the kidneys can cause kidney failure.

Diagnosing  Vasculitis

Laboratory testing of blood or body fluids in a patient with active vasculitis generally indicates inflammation. Depending on the degree of organ involvement, a variety of organ function tests can be abnormal.

The diagnosis of vasculitis is definitively established after a biopsy of involved tissue demonstrates the pattern of blood vessel inflammation. Examples of tissues used for biopsy include skin, sinuses, lung, nerve, and kidney. Depending upon the situation, an alternative to biopsy can be an X-ray test of the blood vessels called an angiogram, demonstrating characteristic patterns of inflammation in affected blood vessels.

Treatment for Vasculitis

The treatment of the various forms of vasculitis is based on the severity of the illness and the organs involved.

  • Treatments are generally directed toward stopping the inflammation and suppressing the immune system.
  • Typically, cortisone-related medications, such as prednisone, are used.
  • Additionally, other immune suppression drugs, such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and others, are considered.
  • Also, affected organs (such as the heart or lungs) may require specific medical treatment when they are active.

The management of vasculitis is an evolving field in medicine. The ideal programs for monitoring and treatment will continue to improve as disease patterns and causes are defined by medical research.