Vasculitis

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at June 30, 2016
StartDiseasesVasculitis

Vasculitis is the general term used to reference conditions involving inflammation of the blood vessels. The condition can come in many forms, and each form is often rare. It can affect one or more organs and be chronic or short-term. Vasculitis can remain in a state of remission or flare up at any time. Vasculitis is also known as angiitis.

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Definition & Facts

Vasculitis is the term used when inflammation is found in blood vessels. Blood vessel walls can become scarred, narrowed, and weakened which causes restricted blood flow, which in turn causes damaged organs and tissues. Around 3 million individuals in the United States are reported to have this condition, although it is difficult to determine since vasculitis is often used as a general term to describe a number of diseases.

Symptoms & Complaints

Vasculitis symptoms often vary, but the common signs of many vasculitis types are as follows:

Varied forms of vasculitis create different symptoms:

Severe complications of vasculitis include the following:

  • Organ damage: Severe forms of vascultis can become severe and cause organ damage.
  • Aneurysms and blood clots: If vasculitis obstructs blood flow, a blood clot can develop. An aneurysm can also occur if vasculitis causes a blood vessel to expand and weaken.
  • Infection: Sepsis and pneumonia are possible complications of vasculitis
  • Blindness: Untreated giant-cell arteritis can cause blindness.

Causes

While the exact origin of vasculitis is unknown to date, some forms of vasculitis are linked to genetic factors. Certain types of vasculitis such as Henoch-Schönlein purpura, Kawasaki disease, and Takayasu's arteritis affect Asian children and young adults more than any other race and gender.

Drug reactions, infections, autoimmune diseases, and blood cancers can be the cause of vasculitis that attacks the blood vessels. The risk of developing certain other types of vasculitis is also increased if an individual has had certain conditions such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Diagnosis & Tests

A physical examination and an in-depth study of an individual’s medical health is the first step in diagnosing vasculitis. The following procedures and diagnostic tests are also used to pinpoint vasculitis:

  • Blood tests may be used. A complete blood count determines if an individual has the proper amount of red blood cells. Other blood tests look for antibodies in the blood that indicate vasculitis as well as high levels of C-reative protein.
  • Urine testing may also be used. Problems can be found if urine contains a high level of protein or red blood cells.
  • Imaging test such as the PET scan, MRI, CT scan, X-rays, and ultrasound help establish what organs and blood vessels are affected by vasculitis.
  • A biopsy may be taken which involves a doctor extracting a small piece of affected tissue in order to probe for signs of vasculitis.
  • Angiography may also be utilized. It involves a dye being injected into a vein or large artery through a catheter. The dye makes blood vessels more prominent for clearer X-rays.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment focuses on healing the underlying conditions that caused vasculitis as well as reducing inflammation. The two phases of vasculitis treatment involve using medications to stop inflammation and inhibit relapses. Medications used to treat vasculitis include:

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Vasculitis cannot be prevented, but treatment is used to prevent and delay complications. Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, and aspirin are often used to treat pain with mild vasculitis cases, and prescription medicine is used to regulate more severe cases.

Surgery may also be used in rare cases. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best forms of prevention in this case; doing so can send vasculitis into remission without affecting major organs.