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Vasculitis: Everything You Need to Know

Vasculitis is a specific condition that is related to abnormal and chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is our body’s natural response to stress and infection. Under normal circumstances, our immune system and inflammation are closely intertwined to fight off stressors, bacteria, viruses, and more.

However, recent research shows that chronic or abnormal inflammation can have serious consequences on our health. It’s been linked to heart disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, colitis, and cancer.

Vasculitis is a specific condition that is related to abnormal and chronic inflammation. It’s rather rare, which might be why you haven’t heard of it. Keep reading to learn more about this condition including what it is, what it’s caused by, and how you can treat it.

What Is Vasculitis?

Vasculitis is a broad term for inflammation and eventual necrosis of blood vessels throughout the body. This inflammation and cell death in blood vessels lead to decreased blood flow and a wide variety of symptoms, presentations, and sub-diagnoses.

What Causes Vasculitis?

Just as there is no single specific type of vasculitis (it’s more of a broad term encompassing many disorders and diseases that root in inflamed blood vessels), there is no single cause of vasculitis.

There are some theories, though.

Genetics

One is that it depends on genetic and hereditary factors. There are studies that link specific genes and mutations to vasculitis conditions.

However, studies show that it’s unlikely to have more than one member of a genetic family have vasculitis, which means that genetics may not be the only (or even the most important) factor in developing vasculitis.

Infection

There is strong evidence linking certain infections and viruses to the later development of vasculitis, including hepatitis B.

Autoimmune Disorders and Responses

We mentioned earlier that inflammation is directly linked to the immune system in order to fight off disease and stress. When the immune system creates inflammation abnormally or incorrectly, it can result in disorders like vasculitis.

You can also have autoimmune disorders where your immune system incorrectly attacks healthy cells and parts of your body. There is evidence linking autoimmune disorders and allergy-type reactions to vasculitis: the immune system attacks the blood vessels, leading to inflammation and necrosis.

Types of Vasculitis

As we also mentioned earlier, vasculitis is a broad term for many different disorders characterized by inflammation and death of the blood vessels. There are actually over 20 specific types of vasculitis.

These types can be broken down into three general categories.

Small Vessel Vasculitis

While all types of vasculitis are uncommon, small vessel vasculitis is the most common form. As the name suggests, this type of vasculitis affects the small vessels, usually those in the skin, capillaries, arterioles (what connects capillaries to arteries), and lymphatic vessels.

The following are some specific disorders and syndromes that are classified as small vessel vasculitis:

  • Wegener’s granulomatosis
  • Microscopic polyangiitis
  • Essential cryoglobulinemic vasculitis
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome

There’s no specific presentation of symptoms or effects with each type of vasculitis, but we will go over common symptoms later in this article.

Medium Vessel Vasculitis

Medium sized vessels include ones on the internal organs and the coronary arteries of the heart. Kawasaki disease is one such disorder: it mainly affects the vessels of the heart and the lymphatic system.

Another example would be Polyarteritis nodosa (PAN), a disease where inflammation mainly targets the vessels of the internal organs like the kidneys and the heart.

Large Vessel Vasculitis

Giant cell arteritis and Takayasu’s arteritis are both types of large vessel vasculitis. These affect large vessels in the body including the aorta and major arteries that lead to the brain.

Symptoms of Vasculitis

Each type of vasculitis will lead to different symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms that are related to almost all types of vasculitis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Red blotches/rash
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

These can range from mild to severe depending on the type of vasculitis you have.

The restriction of blood flow can also lead to serious and life-threatening events. These could include:

  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysm
  • Organ failure
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure

Each type of vasculitis will yield varying symptoms and effects. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms to see if vasculitis is causing your problems.

Vasculitis Treatment Options

Because of the wide variation in symptoms and effects, vasculitis treatment will vary depending on the disorder, your symptoms, and the severity of your condition.

It’s likely your doctor will need a full workup of your health. You’ll need blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, CT scans, and potentially tissue biopsies.

Most vasculitis disorders can be treated with prescription medications. These medications work to suppress your immune system from abnormally attacking your blood vessels. Steroids are often used in order to lessen inflammation and reduce your symptoms.

You may also be given a course of chemotherapy drugs since those also work to suppress your immune system. However, the dose is usually less than a typical round of cancer chemotherapy.

Bottom Line

Vasculitis refers to a group of rare disorders that involve abnormal inflammation. weakening, and death of the blood vessels. While that sounds scary and can result in serious and life-threatening consequences, most of these disorders can be treated if caught early and brought to the attention of your doctor.

Still have questions? Check out our FAQ page for more information.

If you’ve been experiencing unexplained health issues and symptoms, make an appointment today. We can help determine if there’s cause for concern, what tests you need, and set you up with a treatment plan to keep you as healthy as possible.

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