What causes it?
Your blood vessels play a vital role in your body functioning correctly. So, when something happens to them and they don’t perform as well as they should, it can result in significant issues for your organs. Depending on the location of the issue, these complications can be mild or severe. What causes your blood vessels to not function appropriately? What can be done to treat the issue? Is there a way to prevent it in the first place?
Vasculitis, also known as angiitis or arteritis, is when your blood vessels are inflamed and this caused the walls of the vessels to thicken, weaken, narrow or scar. Any of these can restrict blood flow, which can cause damage to your tissues and organs. The exact cause is unknown, but thought to be related to genetics or your immune system attacking your blood vessels on accident. Certain things are thought to activate this immune system response, such as infections (Hepatitis B or C), blood cancers, immune system disease (lupus or rheumatoid arthritis) and reactions to some types of drugs. While it can affect anyone, some things can increase your risk, like smoking, having a chronic infection or having an autoimmune disorder. Vasculitis can be a short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) condition. The severity of the disease also varies and can range from mild to severe. Severe complications include organ damage that results in them failing, blood clots, aneurysms, vision loss/blindness or life-threatening infections (ex. sepsis).
Even though there are many types of vasculitis, most are rare. The types are Behcet’s disease, Buerger’s disease, Churg-Strauss syndrome, Cryoglobulinemia, Giant cell arteritis, Granulomatosis with polyangiitis, Henoch-Schonlein purpura, Kawasaki disease, Takayasu’s arteritis, Microscopic polyangiitis, Polyarteritis nodosa and Hypersensitivity vasculitis. Symptoms depend on the type, so they vary significantly, but are often related to the area of the body that is affected by the decrease in blood flow. For some types, symptoms can come on suddenly and early in the disease process, but for others, they appear gradually or later in the disease process. General symptoms of vasculitis are fever, headache, fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, rash, numbness, weakness and aches/pains. Behcet’s disease produces inflammation of your arteries and veins throughout your body, so symptoms can include mouth/genital ulcers, eye inflammation and acne-like skin lesions. Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) affects the blood vessels of your hands and feet, resulting in pain and ulcers in these areas. Seldomly, it affects blood vessels in the abdomen, brain and heart. Churg-Strauss syndrome (Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis) mainly impacts your lungs, skin, kidneys, heart and nerves in your limbs, which results in asthma, skin changes, nerve pain and nasal allergies. Cryoglobulinemia is from abnormal proteins in your blood and causes a rash, joint pain, weakness and numbness/tingling throughout your body. Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis) produces inflammation of the arteries in your head, especially near your temples, which gives rise to headaches, scalp tenderness, jaw pain, blurred/double vision and blindness. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis brings about inflammation of the blood vessels in your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys, which results in nasal stuffiness, sinus infections, nosebleeds and possibly coughing up blood. Typically, symptoms don’t appear until the damage is more advanced. Henoch-Schonlein purpura (IgA vasculitis) is a type of vasculitis that is more common in children and produces inflammation of the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) of their skin, joints, bowel and kidneys, which causes abdominal pain, blood in the urine, joint pain, and a rash on their buttocks/lower legs. Kawasaki disease (mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome), typically affects children younger than age 5 and causes a fever, rash and redness of the eyes. Takayasu’s arteritis affects the larger arteries in the body, which means symptoms can include joint pain, loss of pulse, high blood pressure, night sweats, fever, general malaise, appetite loss, headaches and visual changes. Microscopic polyangiitis most often impacts the small blood vessels in your kidneys, lungs or nerves causing you to have abdominal pain, rash, fever, muscle pain, weight loss and cough up blood. Polyarteritis nodosa creates inflammation in your kidneys, digestive tract, nerves and skin resulting in rash, general malaise, weight loss, muscle/joint pain, abdominal pain after eating, high blood pressure, muscle pain/weakness and kidney problems. Hypersensitivity vasculitis (allergic vasculitis) is often triggered by an infection or adverse reaction to medication and causes red spots on your skin, usually your lower legs.
The main goal when treating of vasculitis is to reduce the inflammation. It’s also critical to rectify any underlying conditions that caused it to form in the first place. Typically, there are two phases of treatment—reducing inflammation and preventing relapse because it’s not uncommon for someone to have an initial episode that goes away and then comes back later or for the initial episode to never really go away. In either case, medications are used. The most common medications are corticosteroids since they’re great at reducing inflammation. The only issue is that they can have severe side effects if they’re taken in high doses or for long periods of time. This is why if you’re going to be taking them for maintenance purposes, your doctor will prescribe the lowest dose possible. Sometimes, you might take other medications with corticosteroids called steroid-sparing medications. These medicines also help to reduce inflammation and allow the dose of corticosteroids to be reduced more quickly. If you develop complications from vasculitis, like blood clots or aneurysms, then you might need surgery to correct it.
The best way to prevent vasculitis is to live a healthy lifestyle that promotes heart health. This means eating a diet that is high in fresh fruits/vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats/fish. It’s key to limit the amount of fat, sodium and sugar in your diet. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is vital to helping your body stay hydrated, which promotes vascular health. Another important step is to get regular exercise by being active most days of the week. If you don’t normally exercise, it’s imperative to start off slow and get your doctor’s approval before trying any new fitness routine. This will help to decrease your likelihood of getting injured. One other component that most people don’t realize is essential to living a healthy lifestyle is getting enough sleep. Not only is this when your body repairs itself, but when you have enough sleep, you feel more energized and are better able to focus throughout the day.
Vasculitis is a serious condition that requires treatment in order to get better, which means that recognizing the symptoms is key to seeking help soon rather than later. If your have any questions or concerns about vasculitis, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Vasculitis page at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/vasculitis