Vasculitis is a rare inflammation in blood vessels caused when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy blood vessels. Vasculitis can affect any of the body's blood vessels, causing them to become narrowed, blocked (occlusion) or sometimes bulge (aneurysm).
Vasculitis is a rare inflammation in blood vessels caused when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy blood vessels. Vasculitis can affect any of the body's blood vessels, causing them to become narrowed, blocked (occlusion) or sometimes bulge (aneurysm). Occasionally, aneurysms caused by vasculitis may burst. Vasculitis can potentially lead to serious health problems, including damage to the body's organs.
What causes vasculitis is often unknown. Some causes of vasculitis include:
- Side effect of the immune system's response to a recent infection, chronic infection or medication
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the body
- Blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
Groups at higher risk for vasculitis include:
- People with chronic Hepatitis B or C
- Young women
- Middle-aged adults
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- General aches and pains
A variety of tests are used to check for the presence of vasculitis, depending on where vasculitis may be occurring in the body. Commonly used tests include:
- Biopsy: A small tissue sample from the blood vessel or organ where vasculitis is suspected is removed and examined under a microscope for signs of inflammation. A biopsy is often the best way to confirm the presence of vasculitis.
- Blood test: Blood may be tested to look for abnormal levels of blood cells or antibodies, which may signal the presence of vasculitis.
Two types of prescription medicines are the most frequently used treatments for vasculitis:
- Corticosteroids: Used to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, common names for corticosteroids that the doctor may prescribe include prednisone, prednisolone and methylprednisolone.
- Cytotoxic medicines: Most commonly used to treat cancer, patients may be prescribed these medicines — such as azathioprine or cyclophosphamide — together with corticosteroids or if the corticosteroids don't successfully treat the vasculitis. Cytotoxic medicines work by killing the cells that cause vasculitis.