Vasculitis

Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels. This condition occurs when the immune system attacks a blood vessel, causing it to narrow and possibly close off. If this happens, the affected blood vessel stretches and weakens, resulting in a bulge known as an aneurysm. Since vasculitis may disrupt the flow of blood to any part of the body, it can lead to tissue and organ damage and may be life-threatening.

Types of Vasculitis

There are several different types of vasculitis which can affect various organs in the body. They are categorized by the size of the blood vessels they typically affect.

Types Affecting Large Veins and Arteries

  • Behcet's syndrome
  • Cogan's syndrome
  • Giant cell arteritis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Takayasu's arteritis

Types Affecting Medium Veins and Arteries

  • Buerger's disease
  • Central nervous system vasculitis
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Polyarteritis nodosa

Types Affecting Capillaries

  • Cryoglobulinemia vasculitis
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  • Hypersensitivity vasculitis
  • Microscopic polyangiitis
  • IgA vasculitis

While each type of vasculitis has some unique symptoms, all are the result of inflammation of the blood vessels involved.

Causes of Vasculitis

While there is no known cause of vasculitis, it is mainly considered to be an disease of the immune system. When the immune system detects what it considers to be an attack on the body, it releases antigens in response to the attack, resulting in vasculitis. Possible causes may be infection, allergic reaction, immune disorders, certain medications and some cancers.

Symptoms of Vasculitis

Symptoms depend on the type of vasculitis and the area affected. Common general symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of vasculitis can vary considerably. Depending on where in the body vasculitis occurs, the disorder may cause visual, cognitive, gastrointestinal, neurological, dermatological, pulmonary or other problems.

Treatment for Vasculitis

Treatment usually depends on the type of vasculitis and the severity of the condition. Some types of vasculitis improve on their own, other types require medication. Medications used to target any type of vasculitis may include corticosteroids and cytotoxic medications. While corticosteroids are anti-inflammatories, treating the symptom of inflammation, cytotoxic medications target and destroy the cells causing the inflammation. Most cases of vasculitis, especially those diagnosed early, can be treated effectively through a prompt course of medical attention.

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