Vasculitis involves inflammation of the blood vessels. The inflammation can cause the walls of the blood vessels to thicken, which reduces the width of the passageway through the vessel. If blood flow is restricted, it can result in organ and tissue damage.
There are many types of vasculitis, and most of them are rare. Vasculitis might affect just one organ, or several. The condition can be short term or long lasting.
Vasculitis can affect anyone, though some types are more common among certain age groups. Depending on the type you have, you may improve without treatment. Most types require medications to control the inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
In most cases, the exact cause is unknown; however, it is clear that the immune system (the system that keeps the body healthy) plays a big role. While the immune system usually works to protect the body, it can sometimes become "overactive" and end up attacking parts of the body. In most cases of vasculitis, something causes an immune or "allergic" reaction in the blood vessel walls. Substances that cause allergic reactions are called antigens. Sometimes certain medicines or illnesses can act as antigens and start this process.
Common symptoms include:
Additional symptoms can occur, depending on the area of the body affected by vasculitis. If a blood vessel in the skin with vasculitis is small, the vessel may break and produce tiny areas of bleeding in the tissue. These areas will appear as small red or purple dots on the skin. If a larger vessel in the skin is inflamed, it may swell and produce a nodule (lump or mass of tissue), which may be felt if the blood vessel is close to the skin surface.
Treatment focuses on controlling the inflammation and managing any underlying conditions that may be triggering the vasculitis.
A corticosteroid drug, such as prednisone, is the most common type of drug prescribed to control the inflammation associated with vasculitis.
Side effects of corticosteroids can be severe, especially if you take them for a long time. Possible side effects include weight gain, diabetes and weakened bones. If a corticosteroid is needed for long-term therapy, you'll likely receive the lowest dose possible.
Other medications may be prescribed with corticosteroids to control the inflammation so that the dosage of corticosteroids can be tapered more quickly. The medication used depends on the type of vasculitis that is present. These medications may include methotrexate (Trexall), azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), mycophenolate (CellCept), cyclophosphamide, tocilizumab (Actemra) or rituximab (Rituxan).
The specific medications that you'll need depend on the type and severity of vasculitis you have, which organs are involved, and any other medical problems that you have.
Sometimes, vasculitis causes an aneurysm — a bulge or ballooning in the wall of a blood vessel. This bulge may need surgery to reduce the risk of it rupturing. Blocked arteries also may require surgical treatment to restore blood flow to the affected area.