Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. It changes the walls of blood vessels in different ways. It can cause the walls to thicken, weaken, narrow or scar. The problem with these changes is that they restrict blood flow, leading to organ and tissue damage.
There are different types of vasculitis, and while some can impact just one organ, such as the skin, other forms can involve several organs. Vasculitis can be short term or it can be chronic.
Symptoms of vasculitis
The symptoms of vasculitis can vary depending on the severity of tissue damage and what tissues are impacted. Some people don’t feel ill, but they notice spots on their skin. Others will feel sick, particularly if they have organ damage.
Here are some common symptoms of vasculitis:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Cramping, abdominal pain (vasculitis in intestines)
- Shortness of breath, fever, cough (vasculitis in lungs)
- Headaches, loss of vision (vasculitis in eyes)
People who experience skin problems may notice symptoms such as red or purple dots, most commonly on the legs. Areas of dead skin can also appear around the ankles and gangrene can occur in both the fingers and toes.
For those who experience vasculitis in the brain the complications can be mild to severe. They include headaches, behavioral disturbances, confusion, seizures and strokes.
Causes of vasculitis
Research indicates that allergic reactions in the blood vessel walls can cause vasculitis. Substances that trigger allergic reactions are called antigens. These antigens cause the body to make proteins, which attach to the antigen for the purpose of getting rid of it. Antigens and the proteins, known as antibodies, attach and become immune complexes. Sometimes these immune complexes stay in the body too long – they circulate in the blood and deposit in tissues. When they gather in blood vessel walls they cause inflammation.
Although rare, infections right in the blood vessel walls can cause vasculitis. Whether it is bacteria, viruses, or fungi that is infecting the blood vessel, scientists say white blood cells move in to destroy the infectious agent and damage the vessel in the process.
Vasculitis in lupus
Vasculitis is a potential complication associated with lupus as the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels. Blood vessels include arteries, veins and capillaries carrying blood through the body and back to the heart.
Many people who have lupus will notice a sudden change in their symptoms if they develop vasculitis. One of the more common signs is a fever.
According to the journal Autoimmune Diseases, studies show that vascular disease is common in patients who suffer from lupus. Vasculitis may be recognized in as many as 56 percent of lupus patients throughout their lives. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that happens when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and organs.
Research outlined in the U.S National Library of Medicine indicates that the earlier vasculitis is treated, the better the prognosis for those who have lupus vasculitis.
Treatment and prevention of vasculitis
There really is no such thing as prevention of vasculitis, but with proper guidance you can control the symptoms and get treatment.
The treatment of vasculitis and lupus depends on the individual’s general health and on the severity of the disease. There are some instances where vasculitis doesn’t require treatment at all.
In most cases, treatment will concentrate on controlling the inflammation. This is done with medications. When it comes to the vasculitis, a doctor might put a patient through treatment phases – stopping the inflammation and trying to prevent relapses. The kind of medications taken will depend on the type of vasculitis (the organs involved).
Some people see success with treatment right away, but then experience symptoms again. Others may notice that their vasculitis never goes away and they will require ongoing therapy.
People who suffer from severe vasculitis are often treated with corticosteroids and cytotoxic medicines. These medications can have side effects and should be closely monitored by a physician. Certain types of vasculitis may even require surgery to remove aneurysms that have formed.
One of the most difficult aspects of living with vasculitis is coping with the side effects of medications. Research continues in an effort to develop therapies that are easier on patients. If you are a sufferer, there are steps you can take to lessen the pain and aggravation associated with vasculitis and lupus. Learn everything you can about vasculitis and treatment options, see your doctor for regular checkups, exercise each day, maintain a healthy diet, and develop a strong support system. You can ask your doctor about connecting with a support group in your community.