Vasculitis is a large group of autoimmune diseases that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. The affected blood vessels include arteries, veins, and capillaries. The inflammation of these blood vessels can cause their walls to thicken and narrow their passageway. This restricts blood flow and it can result in tissue or organ damage due to less oxygen and nutrients supply.
Vasculitis can affect different parts of the body – one organ or several – and it can be short term (acute) or long term (chronic).
Types of Vasculitis
There are two main types of vasculitis:
Primary vasculitis does not have a known cause and secondary vasculitis which can occur as a result of an underlying condition caused by:
- Immune system disorder – Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are examples
- Infection – Hepatitis C virus infection causes cryoglobulinemia
- Allergic reaction – Vasculitis can be caused by some medications
- Some types of cancers – Lymphoma, and leukemia are examples
Specific types of vasculitis include:
- Buerger’s disease
- Behcet’s disease
- Churg-Strauss syndrome
- Central nervous system (CNS) vasculitis
- Giant cell arteritis
- Kawasaki disease (mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome)
- Takayasu’s Arteritis (aortic arch syndrome)
- Henoch-Schonlein purpura
- Wegener’s granulomatosis
- Rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis
Causes of Vasculitis
The exact cause of vasculitis is not fully known as some types are related to an individual’s genetic makeup while others are as a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking the blood vessels.
Some of the possible triggers include:
- Blood cancers
- Infections such as hepatitis B and C
- Reaction to certain drugs
- Immune system diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma
Symptoms of Vasculitis
Symptoms of vasculitis usually vary depending on the type of vasculitis, the organ involved, and the severity of the condition. The symptoms can develop slowly over months or quickly over days or weeks.
The common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- General aches and pains
- Numbness and weakness
Different parts of the body can have different symptoms such as:
- Eyes: Itchy, red, burning eye; poor vision, light sensitivity
- Skin: red or purple spots or bumps, itching, clusters of small dots, bruises, or hives, splotches
- Nerves: Numbness, weakness and tingling sensations in various parts of the body, loss of strength or feeling in the hands and feet, shooting pain in the legs and arms
- Joints: Arthritis or aches in one or more joints
- Sinuses, ears, nose, and throat: Sores in the nose, sinus or chronic middle ear infections, hearing loss in some cases
- Lungs: Coughing up blood, shortness of breath
- Brain: Changes in mental functions, headache, stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis or muscle weakness
In severe cases, vasculitis can cause blockage in the blood vessels hence blood cannot pass through or they can bulge or possibly burst (aneurysm).
Diagnosis of Vasculitis
Vasculitis is diagnosed based on the symptoms presented, physical exam, medical history, and test results. Tests and procedures that are done include:
- Blood tests: These are done to look for signs of inflammation such as if the C-reactive protein is in high levels, looking for certain antibodies, and a complete blood count to tell if you have enough red blood cells.
- Biopsy: It involves taking a small sample of the affected organ or blood cell and examining it to look for signs of tissue damage or inflammation.
- Imaging tests to look for the organ which is affected and for monitoring how you’re responding to treatment
Treatment of Vasculitis
Vasculitis treatment depends on the type you have, the organ affected, and its severity. The treatment focuses on managing the underlying condition and controlling the inflammation. Severe vasculitis is treated with prescription medication while individuals with mild vasculitis can find relief in over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain medication.
Vasculitis can sometimes cause aneurysm – ballooning or bulging in the wall of a blood vessel. To reduce the risk of the bulge rupturing, surgery may be needed. Blocked arteries can also be surgically treated to restore blood flow to the area.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service. From initial consultation through to final diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, cardiologists and technologists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you may have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.