Vasculitis is the inflammation of the blood vessels that lead to its destruction. This rare disease affects both arteries and veins and can be anywhere in the body. There are many types of vasculitis and can affect persons of both sexes and a broad range of ages. Generally the blood vessels involved can be in any organs but skin, joints, kidney and lungs are most often involved.
Signs and symptoms for vasculitis often depend on the organ it has affected and the blood vessels that are involved in the problem.
Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite and pain in the joints. Other symptoms include:
Skin – When vasculitis affects the skin symptoms will include rashes, ulcers and redness. In some cases there may also be bruises and some itching.
Lungs – Shortness of breath, fatigue and in some cases coughing blood may result from vasculitis affecting the lungs.
Sinuses, Nose, Throat, and Ears – If vasculitis affects your nose, throat and ears you may experience some degree of hearing problems. There maybe frequent headaches or pain in the face due to infections and also cases of nose bleeds.
Eyes -If vasculitis affects your eyes, you may develop red, itchy, burning eyes. There maybe some amount of loss of vision and also increased sensitivity to light.
Brain - If vasculitis affects your brain, symptoms may include headaches, loss of memory, indecisiveness and in rare cases paralysis.
Kidneys – Symptoms for vasculitis affecting kidney may take some time to surface. There maybe traces of blood or protein in the urine and drop in amount of urine produced.
The exact cause of vasculitis is still unknown but researchers believe it may be genetic in nature. Vasculitis is an autoimmune disease, where the antibodies in a person is tricked into attacking the cells in the. In vasculitis, the antibodies are spurred into attacking the blood vessels in the body. Autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma can lead to vasculitis.
In some cases vasculitis is caused due to drugs like antibiotics. Infections which can be viral or bacterial can also cause vasculitis. Viruses that cause hepatitis B and C and haemorrhagic fever are known to cause vasculitis. Vasculitis also may be linked to certain blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Vasculitis can involve blood vessels of any organ and hence the doctor to consult would vary and the tests needed to be carried out can be diverse.
Specialists involved can range from a rheumatologist (joint and muscle specialist), to dermatologist (skin specialist), pulmonologist (lung specialist) to a urologist (urinary tract and urogenital system specialist)
The doctor in all cases will start with ascertaining signs and symptoms and medical history of the patient.
A simple blood tests can determine the existence of cancerous cell growth and presence of abnormal levels of antibodies (proteins). A low hemoglobin or hematocrit level suggests anemia, a complication of vasculitis. A blood test can also reveal antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA), which is known to be present in certain types of vasculitis. Similarly high levels of erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) may be a sign of inflammation in the body.
Other tests include biopsy, measuring blood pressure and urine analysis. In cases where vasculitis is affecting the heart, an EKG (electrocardiogram) and an echocardiography can help in the diagnosis procedure.
A chest x- ray can also be performed as it gives a complete and clear picture of organs such as heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Similarly a lung function test can help a doctor determine if there is any obstruction in airflow.
Other diagnostic tools may include imaging methods like an abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography scan (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Invasive methods of diagnostics include angiography and MRI angiography to detect vasculitis.
Treatment for most types of vasculitis is not known. Typical treatment of vasculitis will depend on the type of vasculitis, the symptoms, organs affected and severity. In most cases prescription medicines are used to treat severe vasculitis. Rarely, surgery may be done. People who have mild vasculitis may find relief with over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
Medicines involved in treating vasculitis include corticosteroids and cytotoxic medicines.
While corticosteroids help reduce inflammation in your blood vessels cytotoxic medicines are taken when the condition is severe. In the case of vasculitis like Kawasaki’s disease high-dose aspirin and immune globulin are used as treatment. Immune globulin is a medicine that is injected into a vein.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 13, 2015