What is vasculitis ?

Vasculitis is a blood vessel disorder that causes inflammation and leads to several changes in blood vessel walls such as scarring, narrowing, thickening and weakening.

Among the different types of vasculitis, some are chronic and last for longer periods while other types are acute and tend to last for shorter periods. Sometimes the cases of vasculitis are severe because they tend to carry reduced supply of blood to different organs and tissues. This can result in organ damage and thus cause a fatality.

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Any section of the population can be affected by the condition, though certain groups may be more vulnerable to vasculitis than others. Some cases of vasculitis improve by themselves, while other forms may require drug treatment for a prolonged period.

Vasculitis is often known by other names such as arteritis or angiitis.

Symptoms of vasculitis

The signs of vasculitis may vary depending on the vessels and organs affected. However some of the common signs are listed as under:

  • Loss of weight
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive fatigue and tiredness
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Nerve abnormalities and numbness.

The signs and symptoms of different types of vasculitis are shown as under:

  • Buerger’s disease:   It causes blood clots and inflammation of vessels present on the extremities. It has close association with smoking and can cause pain in lower and upper limbs as well as ulcers on toes and fingers.
  • Behcet’s syndrome: It causes inflammation of veins and arteries and normally occurs in the twenties and thirties. General signs are eye inflammation, genital and oral ulcers and acne-like skin lesions.
  • Churg-Strauss Syndrome: It affects the blood vessels of lungs, and is normally associated with asthma.
  • Giant cell arteritis: It causes inflammation of head arteries, specifically the temple, and usually tends to affect the elderly or older adults. The symptoms are headaches, blurred vision or even blindness, tender scalp and pain in jaw while chewing. Very often it is associated with PMR, which is a condition that causes pain and inflammation on large joints, muscle stiffness or pain in thighs, hips, upper arms, shoulders and neck.
  • Cryoglobulinemia: The signs include purpura rash on lower extremities, arthritis, weakness and nerve damage. Usually it is associated with infections such as those by hepatitis C.
  • Henoch-Schonlein purpura: It causes inflammation in blood vessels of bowels, kidneys, joints and skin. The signs are purpura rash on legs, buttocks, feet; blood in urine and pain in joints and abdomen.
  • Kawasaki disease: The symptoms are fever, eye inflammation and skin rash and the condition normally occurs in children below 5 years of age.
  • Hypersensitivity vasculitis: It leads to a formation of red spots on skin due to allergy towards an infection or a drug.
  • Microscopic poliyangiitis: It affects the smaller blood vessels of kidneys, skin and lungs and includes symptoms such as inflammation of smaller blood vessels of kidneys, fever, skin lesions, weight loss and nerve damage.
  • Takayasu’s Arteritis: Its symptoms are headaches, deteriorated or almost absent pulses, visual problems, feelings of cold or numbness in the extremities and hyper tension. The condition affects young women and occurs in the largest arteries like aorta.
  • Polyarteritis nodosa: It affects midsized blood vessels of kidneys, peripheral nerves, heart, skin, muscles and intestines. Its signs are joint and muscle pain, abdominal pain, purpura rash, skin ulcers and kidney problems.
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s): It causes inflammation of blood vessels in the sinuses, throat, lungs, kidneys and nose. The symptoms are chronic sinus infection, nasal stuffiness, kidney damage and nosebleeds.

Causes of vasculitis

The immune system’s attack on mistaken recognition of blood vessel cells as invaders of the body causes vasculitis. Even though the exact reason for this behavior of the immune system is not known, it is believed that certain cancers, allergic reactions, an infection or the presence of some abnormalities in the immune system may be inducing the reaction and abnormal behavior.

  • The inflammation of blood vessels due to vasculitis, leads to them to grow thicker and then narrower. This reduces or blocks the supply of blood, oxygen and essential nutrients to the affected organs. Such inflammation may also cause fatal aneurysm due to weakening of the blood vessels.
  • Among the two types of vasculitis, the primary vasculitis has no known cause.
  • The secondary vasculitis is caused due to the existence of another disease, such as blood cell cancers, infections, allergic reactions and immune system diseases.

Vasculitis treatment

The type of treatment depends on the type of vasculitis one may have. Some treatments methods are given below:

  • For controlling the inflammation, steroid medications like corticosteroids may be given.
  • For severe cases of vasculitis, the immune system activities need to be inhibited with the use of immunosuppressant drugs.
  • As these medicines have side effects, one has to follow the directions of the doctor.

Vasculitis pictures

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