Vasculitis refers to inflammation in blood vessels. Blood vessels range in size from the large aorta to microscopic capillaries and travel throughout almost every tissue in the body.
As a result, vasculitis presents in many different ways and can cause many different problems.
Vasculitis causes changes in the walls of blood vessels, which leads to thickened walls, narrow vessels and reduced amounts of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the body’s tissues and organs. The disease can affect only one organ such as the skin, or it can involve several. Although our understanding of the mechanisms driving blood vessel inflammation has increased dramatically since the early descriptions of these syndromes more than 100 years ago, the classification of the different vasculitis manifestations remains a debated topic. Some types of vasculitis are related to a person’s genetic makeup. Other types develop from a body’s immune system attacking blood vessel cells by mistake.
Symptoms of Vasculitis
Concern over the possibility of vasculitis is often raised by varying symptoms, the most common being a pattern of ischemic (decreased blood flow) throughout the body. Other vasculitis signs include:
- Aches and pains
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Numbness or weakness in nerves
How is Vasculitis Diagnosed?
Since vasculitis can be an explosive, but self-limited problem or a life-threatening illness, a prompt and accurate diagnosis is critically important. The diagnosis is based on looking at the whole picture, including findings from the history and physical examination, laboratory, imaging, and often biopsy. There is no substitute for an experienced rheumatologist thinking through the process.
Treatment depends on the type and severity of the vasculitis and range from short steroid courses to aggressive and long-term immune suppression. Treatment typically goes through two phases: stopping the inflammation and preventing relapse. Corticosteroid drugs are often used to help control inflammation to the blood vessels. If a patient does not respond to corticosteroids, drugs like cytotoxic or immunosuppressant may be used to kill or decrease the functionality of immune system cells causing the inflammation.
The diagnosis of vasculitis is often a life changing moment and should result in a close working relationship with a doctor familiar with these unusual diseases and the medications required to treat them. At Carolina Arthritis, we want to make sure you understand your condition to the fullest and all possible treatment options. If you or a loved one might be suffering from vasculitis, please contact us today to schedule an appointment.
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