Vasculitis refers to a group of uncommon diseases that are all characterized by the inflammation of blood vessels. Some types of vasculitis are acute (short-term), while others are chronic (long-term). There is currently no cure for vasculitis, but early diagnosis and treatment are critical for helping to ease symptoms and hinder the progression of the disease.
Types of vasculitis include:
- Giant cell arteritis
- Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (formerly known as Wegener’s granulomatosis)
- Microscopic polyangiitis
- Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (formerly known as Churg-Strauss syndrome)
- Polyarteritis nodosa
- Behcet’s disease
- Takayasu's arteritis
All of our rheumatologists are trained and experienced in the treatment of the vasculitic disorders. Other sub-specialists are often involved in the care of patients with vasculitis, depending on the type.
Causes and Risk Factors
Inflammation within blood vessels (vasculitis) can occur in large blood vessels, medium sized blood vessels, or small blood vessels (for example capillaries).
In some cases, vasculitis occurs due to an underlying condition, which is referred to as secondary vasculitis. Secondary vasculitis can be caused by:
- Infections – most cases of cryoglobulinemia are caused by the hepatitis C virus infection, and the hepatitis B virus infection can cause polyarteritis nodosa.
- Immune system diseases – rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma can lead to vasculitis.
- Allergic reactions – an allergic reaction to a medication can cause vasculitis.
- Blood cell cancers – leukemia and lymphoma can cause vasculitis.
- Exposure to chemicals/drugs.
Symptoms of vasculitis vary according to which blood vessels and organ systems are affected. Symptoms that many people with vasculitis experience include:
- Weight loss
- Sudden vision loss
- Muscle and joint pain
- Painful rashes
- Numbness in the extremities
To diagnose vasculitis, your doctor typically will begin by going through your medical history and conducting a thorough physical exam. Tests and procedures that may be used for diagnosing vasculitis include:
- Blood tests to determine levels of inflammation in the body, which are high with vasculitis, and to look for certain antibodies that might be attacking healthy cells
- Urine tests to look for evidence of injury to the kidneys that can occur with vasculitis
- Non-invasive imaging, such as x-ray, ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Angiogram (blood vessel x-ray) to determine the condition of a vein or artery
- Biopsy If another test suggests the presence of vasculitis, your physician may order a biopsy of a blood vessel or an affected organ to establish a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment for vasculitis depends on the severity of the illness and the organs involved. Vasculitis treatment options include the use of the following types of medications:
To learn more about our services or to make an appointment with a Brigham and Women’s Hospital rheumatologist, contact one of our trained coordinators at 1-800-294-9999 to get connected with the best doctor for your needs.