Types of Vasculitis

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Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. We have blood vessels throughout our bodies. They deliver blood and oxygen to every part of the body. Some blood vessels—such as the aorta, which carries blood directly from the heart to the rest of the circulatory system—are large. Other blood vessels are small- or medium-sized. (Look at the veins in your hands, for instance.)

There are many different vasculitis types, and some healthcare providers group them according to the size of the affected blood vessels. Learn more about various types of vasculitis, including giant cell vasculitis, urticarial vasculitis, Kawasaki disease, Churg-Strauss vasculitis, and Behcet’s disease.

Large Vessel Vasculitis

The two most common types of large vessel vasculitis are:

  • Giant cell arteritis, a serious condition characterized by inflammation of medium and large-sized arteries throughout the body. Symptoms of giant cell arteritis include headaches, jaw pain, vision changes (blurred or double vision, blindness), scalp tenderness, fever, and joint pain. The condition predominantly affects adults older than 50. Without treatment, giant cell arteritis can cause permanent vision loss or stroke.
  • Takayasu’s arteritis, which affects the aorta and large vessels bringing blood to the arms and legs. Symptoms include joint pain, a feeling of cold or numbness in the limbs, dizziness, night sweats, fever, vision changes and difficulty with memory and thinking. Affected individuals usually first notice symptoms between ages 40 to 60.

Medium Vessel Vasculitis

Vasculitis types that affect medium-sized blood vessels include:

  • Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that usually affects children younger than age 5. Symptoms include fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, redness of the eyes; the tongue, palms and soles of the feet may also be swollen and red. Most children fully recover within a few weeks.
  • Polyarteritis nodosa, a form of vasculitis that usually occurs in middle age and primarily affects the kidney, digestive system, nerves, and skin. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, joint and muscle pain, rashes, and abdominal pain.
  • Churg-Strauss vasculitis. Another name for this form of vasculitis is ‘eosinophilic granulomatosis and polyangiitis.’ Symptoms may include asthma, nasal allergies, and skin changes. The FDA approved mepolizumab, the first medication specifically for Churg-Strauss vasculitis, in 2017.
  • Buerger’s disease, which can cause blood clotting in the vessels supplying the hands and feet. Symptoms include numbness, tingling or a burning or cool sensation in the hands or feet; later symptoms include pain and skin ulcers.

Small Vessel Vasculitis

Types of small vessel vasculitis include:

  • IgA vasculitis, or Henoch-Schonlein purpura. IgA vasculitis affects the tiny blood vessels that supply the skin, joints, bowels and kidneys. Symptoms include abdominal pain, joint pain, blood in the urine, and a rash on the lower half of the body. This condition is more common in children than adults.
  • Urticarial vasculitis, which can cause skin lesions, hives, and uncomfortable itching and burning sensations. This condition is more common in women than men, and often appears in adults between ages 30 to 40. Rarely, urticarial vasculitis can cause lung damage.
  • Behcet’s disease, which can affect both small- and medium-sized vessels. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, genital sores, skin lesions, eye inflammation and stiff, painful joints. Behcet’s disease can affect people of all ages, though symptoms frequently show up between ages 20 to 30. Affected patients have a diagnostic genetic marker (HLA-B5).

Treatment for vasculitis depends on which type you have, as well as the severity of your symptoms. Pain medicine and drugs that suppress the immune system can relieve symptoms in many cases. More advanced treatment, which may include surgery, may be necessary for severe cases of vasculitis or when there are complications. Your healthcare provider can explain the details of your condition and help you understand treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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