Vasculitis is an inflammation of your blood vessels. Vasculitis causes changes in the walls of your blood vessels, including thickening, weakening, narrowing and scarring.
There are many types of vasculitis. Some forms last only a short time (acute) while others are long lasting (chronic). Vasculitis, which is also known as angiitis and arteritis, can be so severe that the tissues and organs supplied by the affected vessels don't get enough blood. This shortage of blood can result in organ and tissue damage, even death.
Vasculitis can affect anyone, though some types of vasculitis are more common among certain groups. Some forms of vasculitis improve on their own, but others require treatment — often including taking medications for an extended period of time.
General signs and symptoms common to most vasculitis types
Signs and symptoms for some types of vasculitis
When to see a doctor
Giant cell arteritis
Giant cell arteritis causes inflammation of certain arteries, especially those near the temples. ...
Henoch-Schonlein purpura is an inflammation of the small blood vessels of the skin, joints, intestines and kidneys. When blood vessels get inflamed, they can bleed into the skin, causing a reddish-...
Vasculitis occurs when your immune system mistakenly sees blood vessel cells as foreign. The immune system then attacks those cells as if they were an invader, such as a bacteria or virus. It's not always clear why this happens, but an infection, some cancers, certain immune system disorders or an allergic reaction may serve as the trigger.
Blood vessels affected by vasculitis become inflamed, which can cause the layers of the blood vessel wall to thicken. This narrows the blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood — and therefore oxygen and vital nutrients — that reaches your body's tissues. In some cases, a blood clot may form in an affected blood vessel, obstructing blood flow. Sometimes instead of becoming narrower, a blood vessel may weaken and form a bulge (aneurysm), a potentially life-threatening condition.
Vasculitis with no known cause (primary vasculitis)
Vasculitis that occurs due to another disease (secondary vasculitis)
Complications of vasculitis depend on the type of vasculitis you have. In general, complications that can occur include:
Preparing for your appointment
Whom to see
Specialists who treat vasculitis include:
How to prepare
Questions to ask
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose vasculitis, your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms and past medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam. Tests and procedures used to diagnose vasculitis include:
Treatments and drugs
Specific treatment for vasculitis depends on what kind of vasculitis you have, how serious your condition is and your general health. Though some types of vasculitis are self-limiting and improve on their own, such as Henoch-Schonlein purpura, others require medications.
Medications used to treat vasculitis include:
Coping and support
When vasculitis is identified and treated early, the prognosis is usually good. One of your greatest challenges may be coping with side effects of your medication. The following suggestions may help:
Last Updated: 2011-10-08
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