An inflammation of the blood vessels, vasculitis may thicken and weaken blood vessel walls. If blood flow is restricted, organ damage can occur.
Vasculitis involves inflammation of the blood vessels. The inflammation can cause the walls of the blood vessels to thicken, which reduces the width of the passageway through the vessel. If blood flow is restricted, it can result in organ and tissue damage.
There are many types of vasculitis, and most of them are rare. Vasculitis might affect just one organ, or several. The condition can be short term or long lasting.
Vasculitis can affect anyone, though some types are more common among certain age groups. Depending on the type you have, you may improve without treatment. Most types require medications to control the inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
General signs and symptoms of most types of vasculitis include:
Other signs and symptoms are related to the parts of the body affected, including:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Some types of vasculitis can worsen quickly, so early diagnosis is the key to getting effective treatment.
The exact cause of vasculitis isn't fully understood. Some types are related to a person's genetic makeup. Others result from the immune system attacking blood vessel cells by mistake. Possible triggers for this immune system reaction include:
Vasculitis can happen to anyone. Factors that may increase the risk of certain disorders include:
Vasculitis complications depend on the type and severity of your condition. Or they may be related to side effects of the prescription medications you use to treat the condition. Complications of vasculitis include:
Your doctor likely will start by taking your medical history and performing a physical exam. He or she may have you undergo one or more diagnostic tests and procedures to either rule out other conditions that mimic vasculitis or diagnose vasculitis. Tests and procedures might include:
Treatment focuses on controlling the inflammation and managing any underlying conditions that may be triggering the vasculitis.
A corticosteroid drug, such as prednisone, is the most common type of drug prescribed to control the inflammation associated with vasculitis.
Side effects of corticosteroids can be severe, especially if you take them for a long time. Possible side effects include weight gain, diabetes and weakened bones. If a corticosteroid is needed for long-term therapy, you'll likely receive the lowest dose possible.
Other medications may be prescribed with corticosteroids to control the inflammation so that the dosage of corticosteroids can be tapered more quickly. The medication used depends on the type of vasculitis that is present. These medications may include methotrexate (Trexall), azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate (CellCept), cyclophosphamide, tocilizumab (Actemra) or rituximab (Rituxan).
The specific medications that you'll need depend on the type and severity of vasculitis you have, which organs are involved, and any other medical problems that you have.
Sometimes, vasculitis causes an aneurysm — a bulge or ballooning in the wall of a blood vessel. This bulge may need surgery to reduce the risk of it rupturing. Blocked arteries also may require surgical treatment to restore blood flow to the affected area.
One of your greatest challenges of living with vasculitis may be coping with side effects of your medication. The following suggestions may help:
Make an appointment with your primary care doctor if you have signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects that you have vasculitis, he or she may refer you to a joint and autoimmune disease specialist (rheumatologist) with experience in helping people with this condition. You may also benefit from a multidisciplinary approach. What specialists you see depends on the type and severity of your condition.
Specialists who treat vasculitis include:
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to discuss, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Try to:
For vasculitis, some basic questions to ask include:
Your doctor may ask: