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What Is Vasculitis?

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

What Is Vasculitis?

Vasculitis is a group of disorders that destroy blood vessels by inflammation. It can occur as the main disease (primary vasculitis), or as a complication of another disease (secondary vasculitis). It can just affect one part of the body (localised) or multiple parts of the body (systemic).

With almost 20 types of ‘primary systemic vasculitis’ known they are classified as to whether they mainly affect small, medium or large blood vessels. Individual variants of vasculitis are defined by the parts of the body affected such as the nose, lungs and kidneys. Direct imaging of blood vessels by X-rays or other tests helps in the diagnosis of medium and large vessel vasculitis.

Who Gets Vasculitis?

Vasculitis is most common in those over 50 years but can affect younger patients too.

Geographic regions affect the types of vasculitis seen, ethnicity can also be a factor.

The frequency of secondary vasculitis depends on the underlying disorder with chronic viral hepatitis infection is probably the most common cause. Family members only have a slightly increased risk of developing vasculitis when compared to the general population, so it is not regarded as an inherited disease.

What Causes Vasculitis?

Viruses tend to trigger the disease in people who are genetically susceptible. Infections, such as bacteria, staphylococcus and streptococcus have been known to cause vasculitis.

How Would You Know You Had Vasculitis?

Typically, there are symptoms which can include tiredness, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches, fevers, sweats and weight loss. You could also notice symptoms affecting the nose, sinuses and ears with nasal stuffiness, bleeding, sinus pain and deafness. Lung symptoms could cause cough, wheeze, coughing blood or breathlessness. Kidney symptoms causes no obvious issues until the kidneys are badly damaged, but can be detected at an early stage by a simple urine ‘dip stick’ test.

How Would Vasculitis Be Diagnosed?

Vasculitis can be hard to diagnose but it should be suspected in patients with an unexplained illness and therefore blood tests would be done and it will pick up any evidence of ‘inflammation’.

Patients who undertake urine tests for kidney disease or a patient with unexplained shadows on a chest X-ray or the development of asthma in adulthood should be tested for vasculitis.

Your doctor will then launch a range of investigations that will lead to confirmation of Vasculitis or the discovery of an alternative disease.

Can Vasculitis Be Treated?

Yes, although this does depend on the type of vasculitis, the parts of body affected and the severity but vasculitis can usually be controlled. Vasculitis can have already caused damage that cannot be reversed, for example change in shape of the nose, but treatment should stop further damage occurring. Most patients will feel very unwell when their vasculitis is untreated and it can take many months for them to feel stronger after treatment is started.

Does Vasculitis Ever Go Away?

In some instances yes it can but it depends on the type. Some forms of vasculitis only occur once and do not recur. Other types are more likely to remain present but controlled through treatment. The disease may flare up again as if your doctor decides to reduced or withdraw treatment.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition

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