An Overview of Vasculitis

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Dec 27, 2012

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Quick Bites

  • Vasculitis is a condition that involves inflammation in the blood vessels.
  • It occurs if your immune system attacks your blood vessels.
  • This may result from an infection, a medicine, or another disease.
  • Vasculitis can affect any of the body's blood vessels.

All the blood vessels in out body are collectively known as vascular system. Vasculitis, also known as angiitis or arteritis is agroup of uncommon diseases which feature inflammation and damage to the walls of blood vessels. Inflammation may include pain, redness, warmth, swelling, and loss of function in the affected tissues.

The blood vessels in our body include arteries that pass oxygen-rich blood to the tissues of the body and veins that return oxygen-depleted blood from tissues to lungs for oxygen. Vasculitis occurs if your immune system attacks your blood vessels by mistake. This may happen as the result of an infection, a medicine, or another disease or condition.

There are many types of vasculitis. Some forms last only a short time (acute) while others are long lasting (chronic). Vasculitis 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.

What Causes Vasculitis

The actual cause of these vasculitis diseases is usually not known. However, immune system abnormality and inflammation of blood vessels are common features. Each form of vasculitis has its own characteristic pattern of symptoms, much of which depends on what particular organs are affected.

vasculitis overview

Examples of vasculitis include:

  • Kawasaki disease,
  • Behçet's disease,
  • polyarteritis nodosa,
  • Wegener's granulomatosis,
  • Cryoglobulinemia,
  • Takayasu's arteritis,
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome,
  • Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis), and
  • Henoch-Schönlein purpura


Systemic Signs and Symptoms

Systemic signs and symptoms are those that affect you in a general or overall way. Common systemic signs and symptoms of vasculitis are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • General aches and pains


Organ- or Body System-Specific Signs and Symptoms

Vasculitis can affect specific organs and body systems, causing a range of signs and symptoms.

If vasculitis affects your skin, you may notice skin changes. For example, you may have purple or red spots or bumps, clusters of small dots, splotches, bruises, or hives. Your skin also may itch.

If vasculitis affects your joints, you may ache or develop arthritis in one or more joints.

vasculitis overview

If vasculitis affects your lungs, you may feel short of breath. You may even cough up blood. The results from a chest x ray may show signs that suggest pneumonia, even though that may not be what you have.

Gastrointestinal Tract
If vasculitis affects your gastrointestinal tract, you may get ulcers (sores) in your mouth or have stomach pain. In severe cases, blood flow to the intestines can be blocked. This can cause the wall of the intestines to weaken and possibly rupture (burst). A rupture can lead to serious problems or even death.

Sinuses, Nose, Throat, and Ears
If vasculitis affects your sinuses, nose, throat, and ears, you may have sinus or chronic (ongoing) middle ear infections. Other symptoms include ulcers in the nose and, in some cases, hearing loss.

If vasculitis affects your eyes, you may develop red, itchy, burning eyes. Your eyes also may become sensitive to light, and your vision may blur. Rarely, certain types of vasculitis may cause blindness.

If vasculitis affects your brain, symptoms may include headaches, problems thinking clearly, changes in mental function, or stroke-like symptoms, such as muscle weakness and paralysis (an inability to move).

If vasculitis affects your nerves, you may have numbness, tingling, and weakness in various parts of your body. You also may have a loss of feeling or strength in your hands and feet and shooting pains in your arms and legs.

Vasculitis can affect people of all ages and races and both sexes. Some types of vasculitis seem to occur more often in people who have certain medical conditions, such as chronic hepatitis B or C infection, have certain autoimmune diseases, such a lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma, and smoke.

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