8 Things to Know About Vasculitis

  • Vasculitis is damage of blood vessels by inflammation.
    Vasculitis Information, Symptoms and Treatment
    Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and it can be painful, such as an inflamed joint. But when blood vessels are inflamed, they can’t efficiently carry blood and oxygen to other parts of the body. Blood vessel walls thicken, narrowing the interior channel and slowing the passage of blood. Inflamed blood vessels can also leak or rupture.

    Vasculitis can range from mild to life threatening. Vasculitis can occur by itself, or with another condition, such as lupus.
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    1. There are many different types of vasculitis.
    Think of vasculitis as a general category. Within this category, there are many different types of vasculitis, each with its own symptoms and challenges. Giant cell vasculitis (also called temporal or cranial arteritis) affects medium and large arteries throughout the body, but the arteries that supply the head are the primary targets; symptoms include headaches, jaw pain, fever, joint pain, and visual problems. Buerger’s disease is a type of vasculitis that affects the hands and feet. Other types of vasculitis include Kawasaki disease and polyarteritis nodosa.
  • woman's hand feeling rash on her arm
    2. Vasculitis symptoms can be non-specific.
    Vasculitis symptoms vary depending upon which blood vessels are affected. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, headache, weight loss, aches and pains, a rash, night sweats, and numbness or weakness. Unfortunately, these symptoms aren’t specific to vasculitis; there may be dozens of other explanations for a fever, fatigue or headache.

    Pay attention to your body. If anything seems unusual to you or does not go away after a few days, tell your healthcare provider. You may want to jot down your symptoms.
  • concept image of eosinophils (type of white blood cell) with red blood cells
    3. No one knows what causes vasculitis.
    Scientists are still trying to discover what causes vasculitis. Some types of vasculitis seem to occur because the immune system—our body’s defense system against foreign invaders such as germs—mistakenly attacks the blood vessels. According to Mayo Clinic, possible triggers for this immune system reaction include blood cancer, hepatitis B or C, and other immune system diseases.

    Smoking is also a known risk factor for Buerger’s disease, a type of vasculitis that usually occurs in people who use tobacco.
  • autoimmune disease word written on blackboard
    4. Vasculitis is more common in people with autoimmune disorders.
    Vasculitis is a rare medical condition. However, it’s more common in people with autoimmune disorders (including lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis) than it is among the general population. The link between autoimmune disease and vasculitis makes sense because both types of disease occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body parts.

    Most people with vasculitis, however, do not have another autoimmune disease.
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    5. Vasculitis diagnosis is challenging.
    Because vasculitis is rare and its symptoms are often non-specific, it can take a long time to get an accurate diagnosis. Vasculitis is rarely suspected as the first cause of symptoms, so your care provider will probably look for other possible causes first. Tests healthcare providers use to diagnose vasculitis include blood and urine tests, CT and MRI imaging, angiogram (X-ray of the blood vessels), and ultrasound. Your provider may need to obtain a small amount of tissue (biopsy) and examine it under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
  • woman displays palms of hands with red spots (purpura) due to vasculitis
    6. You can experience vasculitis flares.
    Vasculitis can be a one-time event or a chronic condition that flares up from time to time. Medical treatment can often bring the symptoms of vasculitis under control. If there is no longer any evidence of inflammation, the patient is said to be in remission.

    Symptoms can return, however, so patients should watch for and report any recurrent or new symptoms. Vasculitis flares can often be managed with medication.
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    7. Vasculitis treatment can relieve symptoms and improve blood flow.
    Vasculitis treatment depends on the patient’s symptoms and response. People with mild vasculitis may be able to control their symptoms with over-the-counter pain medicine. Prescription medicine is the mainstay of treatment for people who have moderate to severe vasculitis. Physicians may prescribe corticosteroids and drugs that depress the immune system.

    If medicine cannot control symptoms, plasmapheresis or surgery may be necessary. During plasmapheresis, antibodies are removed from the plasma (part of the blood), which may slow down the immune system’s attack on blood vessels. Surgery can restore blood flow to affected areas.
  • Female researcher holding vials in science lab
    8. Clinical trials help researchers discover effective treatments.
    Researchers are working to better understand vasculitis. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has a Vasculitis Translational Research Program that is dedicated to clinical research. Anyone who has vasculitis and is at least 5 years old can participate.

    The National Institutes of Health also supports The Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium, a network of academic medical centers, researchers and patients. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk to your physician.
8 Things to Know About Vasculitis

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. Vasculitis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/vasculitis.html
  2. Vasculitis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vasculitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20363435?p=1
  3. Vasculitis. American College of Rheumatology. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Vasculitis
  4. Vasculitis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/vasculitis
  5. Vasculitis Syndromes of the Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Vasculitis-Syndromes-Central-and-Peripheral
  6. What is Remission? Vasculitis Foundation. https://www.vasculitisfoundation.org/mcm_faq/what-is-remission/
  7. Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis). Vasculitis Foundation. https://www.vasculitisfoundation.org/education/forms/giant-cell-arteritis/
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FAC
Last Review Date: 2020 May 18
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