Vasculitis

What is Vasculitis?

Inflammation of the blood vessels is known as vasculitis.

This condition creates changes within the walls of your blood vessels. Changes include weakening, scarring, narrowing, and thickening of the blood vessel walls. As a result, blood flow becomes restricted and tissue and organ damage can occur.

There are several different types of vasculitis that can affect different organs. For example, vasculitis can occur only in the brain, eyes, skin, or organs, but there are also certain forms of vasculitis that will affect multiple organs at once. The condition can range from mild and not requiring any treatment, to severe and life threatening.

What are the Symptoms of Vasculitis?

Depending upon the area of the body that is affected, symptoms for vasculitis will vary widely.

Symptoms of vasculitis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains
  • Weight loss
  • Rash
  • Nerve problems (weakness or numbness in the feet or hands)
  • Lack of pulse in a limb
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Lumps, sores, and red spots on the skin
  • Night sweats

Vasculitis Causes

Vasculitis can be caused by an infection that accidentally invades a vessel wall, attacking the blood vessels. Once fungus or bacteria invade these vessels, they may become inflamed and/or bleed, which causes the walls of the blood vessels to thicken. As a result, they lose oxygen, because they’re narrower than before. A loss of oxygen means a lack of vital nutrients reaching the organs and tissues inside your body, subsequently causing damage.

Some things that can trigger vasculitis include blood cancers (like leukemia and lymphoma), reactions to certain drugs, and immune system diseases like lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. In these cases, your immune system begins producing antibodies that target the body’s tissue and cells, destroying them. Some people have autoimmune disorders such as these for years before vasculitis even makes an appearance. Hepatitis B and C can also cause vasculitis.

Vasculitis can affect both men and women of all ages. Your risk for developing vasculitis is increased by smoking.

How is Vasculitis Treated?

Vasculitis can be treated with glucocorticoids, which will reduce inflammation in the body. However, doctors can also prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, as well as newer medications that have been created to treat other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

If there is severe damage that results from vasculitis, a doctor may recommend surgery, such as vascular bypass grafting or other types of surgery depending upon where the damage is located.

Vasculitis Prevention

Vasculitis cannot be prevented. However, the complications of vasculitis can be prevented or delayed once diagnosed. Prescription medication is used to treat vasculitis and surgery is rare. Mild vasculitis can be treated with over the counter pain medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen and aspirin.

Corticosteroids like methylprednisone, prednisone, and prednisolone are drugs used to treat the inflammation of your blood vessels. If corticosteroids fail to do the trick, doctors might prescribe you a cytotoxic medicine in severe cases. This type of medication is used to kill the cells that cause the swelling. In some cases, a doctor might prescribe both corticosteroids and cytotoxic medicines.

In extreme cases, such as the development of an aneurysm (a bulge in the blood vessel wall) due to vasculitis, surgery will be required to remove it. Your doctor can help you determine if surgery is necessary.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017