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Vasculitis

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).

condition

Definition

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.

Causes

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

Risk

Groups at higher risk for vasculitis include:

  • Smokers
  • People with chronic Hepatitis B or C
  • Children
  • Young women
  • Middle-aged adults

Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • General aches and pains
diagnosis

Diagnosis

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.
treatment

Treatment

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.
Free Vascular Lecture

Learn how to manage your risk for common vascular conditions like heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and varicose veins.

When: Thursday, Sept. 25, 6–7:30 p.m.

Where: Omni Charlottesville Hotel

Free parking and light refreshments.

Register now.

Vascular Screenings

Are You Eligible? 

Just because you don't have symptoms of vascular disease doesn't mean you aren't at risk. We offer screenings every week at Northridge Medical Park.

Eligible patients include:

  • Age 65 or older
  • Age 50 or older with cardiovascular risk factors
  • Adults 45 years or older and an abnormal finding would prompt modification of your lifestyle or medical care
  • Family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm 

Insurance doesn't cover screenings if you aren't experiencing symptoms. The out-of-pocket cost is $99 for all tests.

Find out more (PDF) or call 434.924.5824.

Care for Your Child

If your child has to see a heart specialist, it’s important they visit a doctor who understands the needs of kids. 

At UVA, our doctors are experts in the special kind of care children need.

Learn more