What is Vasculitis?
Vasculitis also known as angiitis or arteritis is a rare autoimmune condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the blood vessels. This condition leads to thickening of the wall of blood vessels which limits the blood flow resulting in organ damage if left untreated. Vasculitis affects people of all ages although symptoms vary based on the factors that cause the vasculitis.
Types of Vasculitis
The different types of vasculitis include:
- Behcet's Disease – In this condition, inflammation of blood vessels occurs throughout the body.
- Buerger's Disease – In this condition, inflammation of blood vessels occurs in the arms and legs.
- Churg-Strauss Syndrome – Marked inflammation occurs in blood vessels that can affect multiple organs.
- Cryoglobulinemia – Inflammation of blood vessels is caused by abnormal proteins in the blood.
- Giant Cell Arteritis – In this condition, inflammation of the arteries occurs in the temple.
- Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis – Inflammation of blood vessels occurs in the nose, throat, sinuses, lungs, and kidneys.
- Henoch-Schonlein Purpura – Inflammation of blood vessels occurs in the joints, skin, kidneys, and intestines.
- Kawasaki Disease – In this condition, inflammation occurs in medium-sized blood vessels of children.
- Takayasu's Arteritis – Inflammation occurs in the aorta and its main branches.
Causes of Vasculitis
The exact cause of vasculitis is unclear; however, it may be due to an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly destroys the body’s blood vessels considering them as foreign particles. Some of the other factors that trigger this condition include:
- Allergic reaction to drugs
- Genetic predisposition
- Blood cancer
Symptoms of Vasculitis
Some of the common symptoms of vasculitis include:
- Weight loss
Depending on the location of the affected blood vessels you may also experience:
- Skin rashes
- Numbness and weakness in the hands and feet
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
Diagnosis of Vasculitis
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical examination will be performed. Some of the common diagnostic tests include the following:
- Blood tests: Blood tests are performed to look for certain substances or the presence of elevated enzymes in the blood that can indicate infection or disease.
- X-rays of Blood Vessels: During this study, high electromagnetic energy beams are used to produce images of the affected blood vessels after they are injected with a contrast dye.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: An imaging study that uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to detect any inflammation in the organs and blood vessels.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This scan uses multiple x-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the arteries and veins.
- Ultrasound: This test produces images of the internal organs using sound waves of high frequency.
- Echocardiogram: This test helps to view the heart’s size, structure, and motion using sound waves.
- Muscle biopsy: This is an image-guided procedure in which a small sample of tissue is taken and observed under the microscope.
Treatment for Vasculitis
Treatment for vasculitis may vary based on its root cause and the organs affected. Some of the common treatment methods include:
- Glucocorticoids: These are steroid medications like methylprednisolone that are prescribed to reduce inflammation.
- Immunosuppressant drugs: These drugs suppress the immune system to prevent damage to the tissues and organs.
If conservative methods fail to improve the symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat severe vasculitis or in some cases, to prevent the rupture of an aneurysm.