Understanding Vasculitis

Vasculitis is inflammation of the arteries and veins. Inflammation can narrow or block the blood vessel. This can result in poor blood flow to the body and cause damage to organs and tissues. Vasculitis can be short-term or long-term (chronic).

How to say it

vas-kyoo-LI-tihs

What causes vasculitis?

In many cases, the cause of vasculitis is unknown. It may be an immune reaction that causes the immune system to attack your own blood vessels. It can develop after an infection, as a reaction to medicine, or with other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Vasculitis is sorted by the size of the affected blood vessels.

Larger blood vessels are most commonly affected. This can cause diseases such as:

  • Bechets disease. This causes mouth and genital ulcers, joint pain and swelling, and eye inflammation.

  • Giant cell arteritis. This causes fever, headache, jaw or scalp pain, and vision changes. It’s also called temporal arteritis.

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica. This causes stiff and painful hips and shoulders.

When vasculitis affects medium-sized blood vessels, it can cause diseases such as:

  • Buerger disease. This causes poor blood flow to the hands and feet.

  • Kawasaki disease. This can affect the arteries in the heart.

  • Rheumatoid vasculitis. This is a complication of rheumatoid arthritis

Vasculitis that affects small blood vessels can cause diseases such as:

  • Cryoglobulinemia vasculitis. This causes muscle and joint pain, and red dots on the legs.

  • Microscopic polyangitis. This affects the blood vessels in the kidneys and lungs. It can cause coughing up of blood.

Symptoms of vasculitis

Symptoms will depend on which organs are affected. General symptoms include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)

  • Fever

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Skin rash

  • Poor appetite

  • Belly pain

  • Kidney and nerve problems

How is vasculitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose vasculitis based on your symptoms and certain tests such as:

  • Blood and urine tests. These are done to check for signs of inflammation.

  • Biopsy. Your healthcare provider can take a small sample of an inflamed blood vessel or organ to look for signs of damage.

  • Angiography. This is an X-ray of the blood vessels.

You may also need a chest X-ray and other imaging tests, and heart and lung tests.

Treatment for vasculitis

The goal of treatment is to stop inflammation and prevent organ and nerve damage. Your healthcare provider may prescribe corticosteroids to help ease inflammation. In some cases, you may need to take medicine that suppresses your immune system. Or may need to take disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate. If there is severe damage to the blood vessel, you may need surgery. This will redirect blood flow around the damaged part of the blood vessel.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • oint pain, swelling, or stiffness

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or that get worse

  • New symptoms

Online Medical Reviewer: Mary Mancini, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.