5 Key Questions About Vasculitis

Mar 18, 2021

Inflammation plays an important role in your body’s ability to defend and heal infected or injured tissues by helping the immune system direct white blood cells to the area in need of assistance. Unfortunately, this same response can also occur for the wrong reasons, doing harm instead of good to important structures.

If you suffer from the inflammatory problem known as vasculitis, you need to understand what this challenge involves, why it develops, how to treat it effectively, and how to prevent future flare-ups. Start by studying the answers to these five key questions about vasculitis.

1. What Does Vasculitis Involve?

Vasculitis broadly describes any health challenges that trigger inflammation in the blood vessels. You may also hear the condition referred to as arteritis or angiitis. The inflammation may cause affected blood vessels to grow either wider or narrower. In extreme cases, they may either close down completely or balloon into aneurysms.

Rheumatologists group different kinds of vasculitis by the size of the blood vessels involved. Conditions such as Behcet’s syndrome and golfer’s vasculitis, for instance, affect small blood vessels such as capillaries. Cutaneous vasculitis may affect both small and medium-sized blood vessels, while temporal arteritis affects large blood vessels.

2. What Symptoms and Complications Can Vasculitis Cause?

Vasculitis commonly causes somewhat vague whole-body symptoms such as fever, fatigue, weight loss, and headaches or other low-level pain. Depending on the body system affected, you may also experience eye and vision problems, digestive troubles, hand and foot numbness, respiratory symptoms, and skin lesions.

If vasculitis goes undetected and untreated, it can lead to potentially serious complications. Vasculitis affecting the eyes can cause permanent vision loss, while vasculitis in major organs can damage those vital components. Some cases of vasculitis can produce either blood clots or weakening and enlargement of blood vessel walls (aneurysm).

3. Who Gets Vasculitis, and Why?

Medical science can’t explain every case of vasculitis. However, many cases appear to stem from an immune system malfunction. In some individuals, a hepatitis infection or allergies to particular drugs may trigger an immune response that leads to blood vessel damage.

Vasculitis may also occur in connection with a chronic immune condition. If you have a problem such as lupus, scleroderma, or rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an elevated risk for vasculitis. Other risks include a family history of vasculitis, tobacco or cocaine use, and sometimes age. Women often get vasculitis more than men.

4. How Do Rheumatologists Diagnose and Treat Vasculitis?

Your rheumatologist will perform an extensive physical examination to determine whether you have vasculitis, and if so, which part of the body suffers from this problem. The evaluation may include diagnostic imaging of blood vessels and organs, blood tests, urine tests, and tissue sample analysis.

If an allergic reaction to a drug seems to have caused your vasculitis, your rheumatologist may simply advise you to discontinue that drug, allowing the condition to resolve itself. Chronic vasculitis that threatens major organs often involves prescription corticosteroid drugs, which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

The power of corticosteroids comes at a price, since these drugs can produce unwelcome side effects such as elevated blood sugar, weak bones, and high blood pressure. If you need to take a long-term course of corticosteroids, your rheumatologist will take care to prescribe the smallest effective dose.

In many cases, the combination of corticosteroids with other medications can make it easier to keep the corticosteroid dosage to a minimum. These helpful complementary medications may include tocilizumab, methotrexate, azathioprine, mycophenolate, and other anti-inflammatories.

5. What Can You Do to Help Control Your Vasculitis?

As your vasculitis improves, your rheumatologist will reduce your medication until the condition goes into remission. From that point forward, periodic checkups can monitor the condition and catch any flare-ups that might develop so you can receive another round of treatment.

A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent vasculitis recurrences. Eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and cut out avoidable risk factors such as smoking.

Sarasota Arthritis Center can treat both vasculitis and related conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Contact our clinic to schedule an evaluation and receive the appropriate treatment plan for your condition.

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